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Amid the recent spread of the new coronavirus on the island of Miyakojima, part of Okinawa Prefecture, the prefectural government has has issued an advisory over the island’s traditional drinking custom.

In October, the virus started spreading again in nightlife districts on Miyakojima, with the prefecture as a whole recording the nation’s largest number of new infections per 100,000 people, outstripping Tokyo, for 17 days in a row.

Due to the risk of COVID-19 infection, the prefectural government called on Miyakojima residents to refrain from the otori practice, in which participants drink awamori distilled liquor, a specialty of the prefecture, in turn from the same glass at ceremonies and gatherings, saying that such a practice poses an infection risk.

The custom is believed to date back to the age of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which ruled the region between the 15th and 19th centuries.

In late July, an infection cluster emerged on the island of Yoron in Kagoshima Prefecture. It is believed that the virus, brought to the island from somewhere else, spread as people shared cups with others. The practice, similar to otori, is called yoron kenpo, in which people drink shōchū distilled spirits in turn from the same cup.

In Okinawa, the spread of the virus had been contained to some extent after the prefectural government lifted its own state of emergency over the virus on Sept. 5.

But 28 new cases of coronavirus infection have been confirmed on Miyakojima since Oct. 9.

The prefectural government issued the advisory for nightlife districts in the city of Miyakojima on Oct. 14 and expanded it to cover the entire prefecture Monday.

A 50-year-old owner of an izakaya (Japanese-style pub) in Miyakojima said that his establishment strictly prohibits the otori practice. But “the restaurant industry in general will be dealt a heavy blow if the virus spreads at any other establishment,” he said.

He said he wants the prefectural government to “raise people’s awareness by issuing an alarm, instead of an advisory.”

The prefectural government issued the advisory in consideration of the fact that Miyakojima is located about 300 kilometers away from the main island of Okinawa, and it takes time to transfer seriously ill coronavirus patients to hospitals on the main island.

“We want people to choose restaurants with thorough coronavirus measures when dining out,” Miyakojima Mayor Toshihiko Shimoji said.

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