Thousands Ordered To Work From Home As Experts Warn Japan Is "On The Cusp Of A Large Outbreak"

With half of China's population facing some level of travel restriction due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Politburo's attempt to get the country back to work has been slow going and fraught with setbacks.

Much of the coverage so far has lingered on Apple's supply woes and warnings by companies as diverse as automakers and textiles firms about supply chain disruptions tied to factory closures in China. But China isn't the only country facing serious economic blowback from the outbreak.

Tens of thousands of professional workers in Japan have been asked to work from home in a government-supported policy to contain a possible outbreak in Tokyo.

With 66 confirmed cases outside the 542 infected aboard the 'Diamond Princess', Japan has the largest number of cases outside China.

As the government advises people to avoid crowded area, many companies have instructed employees to either work from home or minimize their time in-office. According to Nikkei, they include: Soy, Fujitsu, Toshiba, Takeda, NEC, KDDI and SoftBank.

To keep employees out of large crowds, Sony urged staffers Tuesday to telework and avoid commuting during rush hour. It is suspending its usual 10-day monthly cap for working from home.

For those who must physically be on-site, Sony is offering a flexible schedule with shorter mandatory hours of noon to 3:30 p.m., compared with the usual start time of 9:30 a.m. Bypassing rush-hour commutes will minimize the risk of contracting the coronavirus, the thinking goes.

Fujitsu is letting employees who are pregnant or have underlying health conditions to work from home for as many full days as needed, scrapping its usual weekly and monthly limits. Toshiba told all subsidiaries Tuesday to introduce telecommuting to all workers.

Takeda also urged its 5,200-plus workers to stay off and avoid commute during rush hour if they must come in at all. Among other companies advocating telework are NEC, KDDI and SoftBank Corp.

Shinzo Abe's government, eager to do everything it can to ensure that the Summer Olympics in Tokyo go off without a hitch, is backing the work-from-home policy for as long as necessary to prevent the virus from spreading.

The government has embraced such efforts. "It's important to create an environment where students and workers feel like they can stay home, and I ask for your cooperation," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a response meeting Tuesday.

"Teleworking is an effective solution," he said.

"People must not go to school or work if they have coldlike symptoms, such as a fever, and avoid leaving the house," said Abe, who also discouraged large-scale events that could lead to widespread infection.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Monday threw her support behind teleworking and staggered commutes. "We need to start with what we can, and we'll come up with a detailed plan as soon as we can," she said.

Abe is especially concerned as infectious disease experts warn about the possibility of a China-style outbreak in Japan, as former FDA Director Scott Gottlieb said the country looked to be on the verge of a major outbreak.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government decided that day to distribute roughly 150,000 protective masks to bus and taxi drivers in response to a request by industry groups.

The world is watching to see if Japan will see the first major outbreak outside China. Japan appears "on the cusp of a large outbreak and maybe epidemic growth," former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC on Tuesday. The country's patient count has doubled in four days, he said.

"If you start to see this become epidemic in other nations or have other nations experiencing large outbreaks that's going to be extremely worrisome that we're not going to control this globally," Gottlieb said.

But with a stampede of passengers and crewmembers of the 'Diamond Princess' about to be released from a two-week quarantine tomorrow through Friday, even as the number of newly diagnosed cases continues to rise, Abe should probably pray that his government's top public health officials know what they're doing.