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Japan’s taxi drivers face Olympics with no spectators

TOKYO—In his white gloves, dark suit and tie, taxi driver Yuki Kawaguchi is ready to ferry passengers around Tokyo in style.

But while taking a cab in the Japanese capital is a luxurious experience, drivers face the constant threat of coronavirus infection, and recently suffered another blow to business when Olympic spectators were banned in Tokyo.

Kawaguchi, 26, turns up for work at his taxi firm in the busy district of Shinagawa in jeans and a baggy T-shirt.

After changing into his smart uniform, he takes a breathalyzer test and a temperature check, then enters his gleaming black taxi adorned with the logo of the virus-postponed 2020 Games.

Organizers decided last week to hold Olympic events in and around the city behind closed doors as COVID-19 infections rebounded.

The fan ban is “inevitable,” Kawaguchi told AFP, describing it as “the strongest step (organizers) can take short of cancellation”.

Japan has seen nearly 15,000 COVID-19 deaths, and around 17 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

Kawaguchi said he wants to get a jab quickly, despite his concerns over side effects.

“I don’t deny that I want to get vaccinated as soon as possible, as we drive many people we don’t know.

“But at the same time I hear reports of side effects, so I have mixed feelings.”

A new virus state of emergency began in Tokyo on Monday, limiting alcohol sales and restaurant opening hours, as well as capping crowd sizes at events.

As passenger numbers fell during the pandemic, Kawaguchi’s employer Nihon Kotsu has made up for lost income with a goods delivery service.

During the Paralympic Games, which begin on August 24, Kawaguchi will drive designated taxis and shuttle buses for para-athletes and officials.

But until then, he will work his usual shift, he said, as he checked his mirror, made sure his mask was firmly in place, and drove off into the night. 

Topics: Japan , taxi drivers , Tokyo Olympics , COVID-19
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