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Karaoke businesses hit sour note with COVID-19

SAPPORO, Japan >> Karaoke establishments have been a persistent source of novel corona­virus clusters in Japan. While businesses in Sapporo have taken infection control seriously, few expect to recover from a drastic drop in customers.

“The world is gradually recovering, but it looks like a third wave is coming among these daytime karaoke gatherings,” Kuniko Morimoto said last week. She runs Karaoke Kissa-Yu in Shiroishi Ward, Sapporo.

A movable screen nearly as high as the ceiling divides her space to prevent singers from spreading droplets.

Morimoto said she made it herself out of a drying rack and transparent sheet. Customers are also separated by synthetic resin panels.

Holding up a towel soaked in disinfectant, she said customers are asked to wipe off the mic each time they sing.

Her establishment reopened June 1 after the state of emergency was lifted. It has since been closed for about a month.

A number of regulars showed up, but when infections at another location were reported, business dropped off again. There are days when she has only one customer, and her income has dropped by as much as 80%.

“I can’t have an infected person come from my place,” she said, adding that she is refusing new customers and people who have visited other karaoke locations.

She said she has gotten calls from people asking if the clusters started at her establishment.

“There’s nothing I can do but try to hold on,” she said gravely.

Similar situations are occurring in Iwamizawa, Hokkaido, where a cluster developed at a beauty salon.

According to a stylist who manages another salon in the city, after the cluster was discovered she, too, received calls asking whether her salon was involved.

She has kept her business open, asking customers to disinfect their hands upon arrival. Still, business has dropped by about 80%.

“There are days where no one comes at all,” she said, adding that she prays for things to get back to normal soon.

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