TOKYO, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- Leading economists in Japan have estimated that as more and more people follow the government's advice of avoiding crowded places, with many large gatherings and events being cancelled in a bid to contain the new coronavirus, a significant drop in household spending could seriously dent the world's third-largest economy.
With would-be patrons opting to stay home rather than frequent malls, restaurants and bars, as the government has said that the two-week period ahead would be crucial in trying to contain the spread of the new coronavirus and urged people to avoid crowded places, economists said the costs to the retail sector could be painful.
Leading economists have estimated a drop of more than 2 trillion yen (18.39 billion U.S. dollars) in household consumption as a result of people semi-isolating themselves and not attending leisure and entertainment activities outdoors as they would do normally.
According to Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, "household spending could fall more than 2.3 trillion yen (21.15 billion U.S. dollars) in the first half of this year in Japan, if people adopt the same level of self-restraint seen after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in March 2011."
Department stores are already feeling the pinch, with Matsuya Co.'s store in Tokyo's Ginza district saying that its sales on Feb. 1-26 tumbled 30 percent from a year earlier, owing to the number of shoppers dropping on a daily basis from the middle of the month.
In addition, a significant drop in the number of Chinese tourists coming to Japan owing to a travel ban aimed at containing the virus, has also significantly hit Japanese entertainment and retailers' bottom lines.
"If the decrease in inbound travelers is also considered, the country's nominal gross domestic product could shrink by some 2.9 trillion yen (26.66 billion U.S. dollars)," said Nagahama.
With the nation paying heed to the government's call to avoid large scale gatherings and events, some of Japan's most popular tourist attractions are planning to shutter their operations.
The operators of Tokyo Disneyland, DisneySea and Universal Studios Japan on Friday announced they will close the hugely popular theme parks from Saturday to March 15 in a bid to help contain the spread of the new coronavirus.
Oriental Land Co., which operates the Disney resorts near Tokyo, and USJ LLC, which operates Universal Studios Japan in Osaka Prefecture, made the decision in line with calls from the government for big events and gatherings to be postponed for at least two weeks.
Oriental Land Co. has not closed its theme parks since March and April of 2011 when a massive earthquake-triggered tsunami battered Japan's eastern seaboard, leading to a nuclear disaster at a plant in Fukushima Prefecture, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986.
"The new coronavirus comes as a further blow to the economy in addition to the consumption tax rise from 8 percent to 10 percent last October. It's like salt rubbed into a wound. Economic recovery is likely to be delayed significantly," Nagahama added.
The government has said that the coming two week period is crucial to containing the spread of the new coronavirus. Businesses and schools have also been asked to, where possible, allow their staff to work from home or work staggered shifts.
The government has also asked all elementary, junior-high and high schools to temporarily close beginning March 2 for about a month.
Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda said on Friday that the government is requesting all children not attending schools to remain indoors while at home.
"We ask for the cooperation of relevant ministries and agencies so that pupils and students will stay at home in principle and not go outside unless it is necessary," Hagiuda said.
Hagiuda said the decision was made by the government because "experts have been saying schools have a high risk of group infection."
The timing of the nationwide school closures comes a few weeks ahead of the schools' spring break, scheduled for late March.
The announcement, however, has been met with some uncertainty from teachers, students and parents who have said they have not been given enough time to prepare for the unscheduled break.