• Jiji, Kyodo, Reuters


Tokyo and neighboring Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures are set to lift their requests for shorter operating hours and restrictions on serving alcohol at restaurants and bars next week as the COVID-19 situation is calming down.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government decided Thursday to lift its restrictions at certified restaurants and bars, effective Monday. The restrictions will be lifted for the first time since November last year.

Of some 120,000 restaurants and bars in the capital, over 100,000 have been certified by the metropolitan government. Certified businesses have been allowed to serve alcohol until 8 p.m. and operate until 9 p.m.

At certified restaurants, Tokyo will ask people to go in a group of up to four people in principle, but will allow five or more people to sit together if they show certificates of COVID-19 vaccinations, according to metropolitan government officials.

The Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectural governments said Wednesday that they will end their requests for shorter hours and allow all local restaurants and bars to serve alcohol, effective Monday.

Restaurants and bars in Chiba, excluding those meeting strict standards against infections, have been asked to operate for shorter hours with restrictions on alcohol service.

“We aim to prevent a spread of infections while maintaining social and economic activities,” Chiba Gov. Toshihito Kumagai said during a news conference.

He stressed the significance of continuing measures against infections to prevent a resurgence of the coronavirus.

The Kanagawa Prefectural Government plans to call for people to eat and drink in small groups of up to four or with family members living in the same house for a maximum of two hours after the restrictions are lifted.

Saitama Gov. Motohiro Ono called for continued precautions after the restrictions are lifted. “We’ll ask for continued basic measures against infections,” he said.

Restaurants and bars welcomed the plans to lift restrictions.

A sushi chain official said some customers had to come in haste after work to make it in time before the closure. Customers will be able to dine comfortably, the official said.

The town “will be brought back to life,” a karaoke bar staffer said. The operator of another karaoke chain said it plans to extend its operating hours as soon as the shorter-hour request is lifted.

But an official at an izakaya pub chain was more cautious, saying people’s lifestyles have changed amid the pandemic and that it is uncertain whether they will go bar-hopping late at night like they used to.

“We’re not sure if we’ll have as many customers as before,” the official said.

Tokyo confirmed 36 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the fifth straight day below 50 cases. It had 24 patients with severe symptoms, less than one-tenth of the peak.

Customers enjoy drinks at a pub in the city of Chiba earlier this month. | KYODO
Customers enjoy drinks at a pub in the city of Chiba earlier this month. | KYODO

Infections have fallen dramatically from a wave of more than 5,000 a day in August that hammered the capital’s medical infrastructure.

Some 67% of Japan’s population is now fully vaccinated, and the government is planning to roll out booster shots this winter. At the same time, authorities are planning to use a combination of vaccination certificates and COVID-19 tests to further ease curbs and reopen the economy.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida meanwhile voiced his intention on Monday to hand out subsidies to help pandemic-battered restaurants and bars rebuild their businesses.

“We must provide full support (to the industry), such as business reconstruction subsidies,” Kishida told reporters after holding a round-table meeting with restaurant owners and others at a pub in Tokyo’s Shimbashi district.

The meeting was held to reflect their voices in economic measures that the government plans to compile after the Oct. 31 general election for the House of Representatives.

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