The Tokyo Metropolitan Government lowered its coronavirus alert status Thursday and Gov. Yuriko Koike also announced that voluntary measures that discourage dining out, public events and travel outside the capital would be loosened.
The governor’s announcements represent the capital’s latest efforts to reopen the city amid the ongoing pandemic by relaxing coronavirus countermeasures that promote safety but stifle revenue, including travel guidelines that are choking the domestic tourism industry.
“New cases may have hit a lull but we must expect — and are prepared for — another surge,” Koike said during a meeting Thursday of the metropolitan government’s coronavirus task force.
There was concern the Bon holiday season in mid-August, during which many residents travel out of town to visit family in rural parts of the country, would trigger an uptick in infections, but city officials believe ongoing countermeasures helped prevent or placate that.
But officials said that, while a downward trend in infections in Tokyo is apparent, new cases aren’t declining as quickly as they had hoped.
Tokyo lowered its alert to the second-highest of four levels. It was raised to the top level on July 15 following an abrupt spike in infections. New cases were reported in the hundreds over the days and weeks that followed, but the spread of the contagion has recently been declining.
Requests for bars, restaurants and other eateries in the capital to close at 10 p.m. to avoid possible cluster-causing late night crowds, which have been in place since early August, will end on Tuesday.
For businesses located outside the capital’s 23 wards, that request ended in late August.
While the capital was logging more than 300 cases a day in early August, on Wednesday the city saw 149 new infections and 276 on Thursday.
As of Thursday, Tokyo had reported 22,444 total infections and 379 deaths due to the coronavirus.
Koike said requests to follow voluntary restrictions on travel to places outside the capital will also be withdrawn.
Meanwhile, the central government is reportedly weighing a plan to raise attendance limits at music and sporting events to 20,000 spectators. Currently, event organizers are urged to cap attendance at 50 percent of capacity or 5,000 people.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the country’s response to the pandemic, said the new rule could be implemented in time for a four-day weekend starting Sept. 19.
The government is expected to make a decision on the matter on Friday, Nishimura said Thursday.
Japan, having reported more than 72,700 cases and 1,393 deaths as of Wednesday, appears to be standing on the tail end of a second wave that officials say peaked in July.
On Wednesday, the country logged 514 new cases, according to the health ministry, a sharp decrease compared to the 1,300 to 1,500 it was reporting daily in August.
Nishimura said earlier this month that the Go To Eat campaign — a program aimed at reviving the restaurant industry by providing subsidies to consumers — would begin in mid-September.
The government is also contemplating whether to include Tokyo in the Go To Travel campaign, a program meant to stimulate the tourism industry from which the capital was initially excluded when it began in late July. Travelers under the program can have up to half of their travel fees reduced via cash and coupons.
Observers questioned the economic viability of the program without the patronage of Tokyo’s 13.9 million residents.
The government’s efforts to buoy the sputtering economy have also drawn backlash from critics who say it’s dangerous to promote public dining and domestic travel during a pandemic.
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