The beginnings of a pandemic exit strategy emerged Friday when the central government’s coronavirus subcommittee proposed a plan to stop discouraging vaccinated people from traveling, dining out or attending large-scale events as early as October.
Restaurants and bars, which have been urged to reduce business hours and stop serving alcohol, will be able to serve such beverages and stay open without restrictions or the risk of fines, according to the plan.
The government is expected to finalize the strategy as early as next week.
Officials are also looking to ease attendance limits on large public events and restart applications for the Go To Travel campaign — a controversial government-funded program that was canceled in late 2020 amid heavy criticism that subsidizing domestic travel would only spread the virus — if people can prove they have been inoculated or have tested negative for COVID-19. Officials said records of vaccination can be used for the former, while PCR tests could be used to demonstrate the latter.
Easing restrictions prematurely or abruptly could trigger a viral rebound, but officials are betting that the country’s vaccine rollout will enable their attempts to resume normal life and revive the economy.
“What’s crucial is easing countermeasures and gradually returning to normal life using measures that are effective and comprehensive,” Shigeru Omi, chair of the subcommittee, said Friday evening.
Japan’s fifth wave of the pandemic continues to spread throughout the country, with daily new cases hovering between 15,000 and 20,000 over the past few days.
A state of emergency active in 21 of the country’s 47 prefectures is set to expire on Sept. 12. With more lenient quasi-emergency measures active in 12 other prefectures, more than half of Japan is under restrictions of varying stringency until the middle of this month.
The country previously endured three states of emergency and four waves of the pandemic. As Japan looks to extricate itself from the current emergency, past attempts to reopen society may illustrate the risks involved.
For instance, in May 2020, in the days and weeks after the country’s first state of emergency was lifted, Tokyo followed a multiphase plan to reboot its economy by incrementally lifting social distancing measures and business closure requests.
In the following waves since then, large outbreaks have been followed by rebounds shortly after. And in the current fifth wave, what started as a rebound in major cities soon spread nationwide, forcing the government to expand the state of emergency to 21 prefectures.
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