Japan struggling to prepare for coronavirus threat as Chinese tourist influx looms

As Japan prepares for an influx of Chinese visitors during the Lunar New Year holiday period, hotels and other commercial facilities are struggling to devise measures for preventing the spread of a new coronavirus strain.

One major hotel chain operator said that it does not plan to take special measures against the threat of the coronavirus. Hotel reception staff are unable to take ordinary prevention measures such as wearing surgical masks as it is considered improper for them to cover their faces when attending guests.

Another hotel company, Prince Hotels Inc., plans to post warnings around the lobby in Japanese, English and Chinese calling on visitors to alert hotel staff if they feel unwell.

Restaurant chain giants McDonald’s Co. (Japan) and Ootoya Holdings Co. are also unable to take special measures, falling back on ordinary hygiene management measures such as making employees wash their hands.

One source from a major department store operator said that companies’ hands are tied, as measures to distinguish Chinese visitors from other people would be infeasible.

Some companies, such as electronics stores, see the wave of visitors from the coronavirus-struck Asian neighbor as a business opportunity. Laox Co. and Bic Camera Inc. plan to increase its stock of high-performance Japanese masks to meet demand from Chinese visitors.

Japan is the most popular foreign travel destination for Chinese people during the seven-day holiday starting Friday, according to Chinese online travel agency Ctrip, followed by Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.

Lunar New Year is the busiest period in China in terms of movement, with some 3 billion people expected to move around during the 40-day period that encompasses the weeklong holiday.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic in China in 2002 to 2003 was fueled partly by authorities not disclosing information regarding the deadly disease before the Lunar New Year holiday in 2003.

Meanwhile, a mom-and-pop candy store at a famous onsen (hot springs) resort area in Hakone in Kanagawa Prefecture has caused controversy online after it put up a poster banning the entry of Chinese in order to avoid the new coronavirus strain, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

The store owner told the paper he created the sign in Chinese using a translation app and put it up in front of the store from around Friday. But following criticism of the poster on the internet — with some calling for an apology — the store owner said he will use less sensational wording, but did not change his basic stance on rejecting Chinese customers, the report said. The move could have an impact on the tourism industry in Hakone amid an expected rise in Chinese tourists during the Lunar New Year holiday period, it added.

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