Health authorities in Tokyo are to ask people working in host clubs and similar establishments to be regularly tested for Covid-19 after evidence that the virus is spreading among people who work in the capital’s night-time economy.
The city reported 14 new infections on Sunday, six of which involved people working in clubs where employees pour drinks and talk to customers in close proximity.
“We want to make sure that people do not catch or transmit the virus also in night-time entertainment districts,” Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, said on Sunday, according to the Kyodo news agency.
On Saturday, Tokyo reported 26 new infections, a dozen of which were men in their 20s and 30s who work at the same host club in Kabukicho, a red-light district of more than 4,000 bars, restaurants, cafes, pachinko parlours and commercial sex establishments.
Four of the remaining cases are also thought to be connected to the city’s huge night-time economy.
The number of cases traced to host clubs – where women pay to talk to male employees over drinks and snacks – and similar establishments in Tokyo has risen since Japan lifted its seven-week state of emergency at the end of May, raising fears of a second wave in the city.
Commuters walk toward a railway station in front of an entrance to Kabukicho, Japan’s biggest nightlife entertainment district at in Tokyo. Photograph: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA
The economy minister, Yasutoshi Nishimura, said the government would release guidelines on containing the spread of Covid-19 in entertainment districts at the weekend. Media reports said the measures could included regular Covid-19 tests for employees at clubs where social distancing and other preventive measures are difficult to implement.
“What we sell here is us, ourselves,” a woman who works at a “girl’s bar” in Tokyo told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. “So wearing a mask would show disrespect towards our customers.”
Other clubs, however, say they have taken measures such as ensuring adequate ventilation, providing hand sanitiser and checking customers’ temperatures at the door. Employees must wear a face covering and maintain a distance of at least one metre from customers.
Many bars and restaurants closed during the state of emergency or reduced their business hours in response to a request from Koike, who does not have the legal powers to force them to close. Others, though, have remained open, complaining that they will not be able to survive a prolonged shutdown.
The number of daily infections is falling throughout Japan, with 36 reported on Sunday to being the country’s total to 17,864, while no new deaths were recorded for the first time in three months.
Tokyo, which has the highest number of infections at nearly 5,400, is gradually easing restrictions on businesses, with cinemas, gyms and cram schools and other facilities reopening last Monday.
But a day later, Koike issued an alert, reminding Tokyoites to avoid the “three Cs” – crowded and confined spaces, and close human contact – an approach that some experts have credited with Japan’s success at containing the outbreak.
Restaurants have been urged to close at 10 pm – two hours later than during the state of emergency – but restrictions have yet to be lifted on nightclubs and live music venues.