• Kyodo, Jiji

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For the first time in 11 months, COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants were lifted in the Tokyo metropolitan area and Osaka on Monday, as the nation looks to balance bringing the pandemic-hit economy back on track and preventing a resurgence of infections.

Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, as well as Osaka, mostly eliminated curbs on the serving of alcohol and operating hours that had been introduced to keep coronavirus infections from spreading.

For the capital and Osaka, this is the first time that the restrictions were removed since November last year, with Tokyo reporting fewest numbers of infections since June 2020.

Nationwide coronavirus cases dropped to 236 on Sunday, compared with over 25,000 reported in mid-August during the fifth wave of infections.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government lifted curbs on restaurants and bars certified to be taking sufficient infection prevention measures.

Until Sunday, some 100,000 certified restaurants and bars, or about 80% of dining establishments in Tokyo, were asked to stop serving alcohol by 8 p.m. and close by 9 p.m., a request that has been in place since a COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted on Oct. 1.

They will continue to be asked to allow groups of no more than four people to sit at the same table. A group of five or more people with proof of vaccination will be allowed to sit at the same table.

The owner of a pub in Tokyo's Shimbashi area checks his fish on Sunday ahead of the lifting of COVID-19 curbs on bars and restaurants Monday. | KYODO
The owner of a pub in Tokyo’s Shimbashi area checks his fish on Sunday ahead of the lifting of COVID-19 curbs on bars and restaurants Monday. | KYODO

The request for shorter operating hours on noncertified restaurants and bars were also lifted, but they will be asked to stop serving alcohol by 9 p.m.

“I am grateful that we can work normally now,” said a 40-year-old female staff member at a bar in Tokyo’s Kabukicho nightlife district.

In Osaka, a senior staff member at an izakaya pub said he had long awaited the removal of COVID-19 restrictions.

“I want customers to come and drink more often,” the 70-year-old said.

A worker at a wholesaler prepares to ship beer and other drinks in Tokyo on Friday ahead of the lifting of COVID-19 curbs on bars and restaurants. | KYODO
A worker at a wholesaler prepares to ship beer and other drinks in Tokyo on Friday ahead of the lifting of COVID-19 curbs on bars and restaurants. | KYODO

Still, restaurant and bar operators are worried whether the number of customers will return to levels before the pandemic, given the concerns that the lifting of such restrictions may cause another surge of infections.

“Some people may still be worried (about infections), I’m not sure if customers will really return to drink,” said Takashi Shibuya, a 43-year-old manager at an izakaya pub in Asakusa, a popular destination in Tokyo among tourists.

Koichi Yoshida, a 63-year-old Tokyo resident of Adachi Ward, said he may go out to drink but only in a small group.

“I’m scared of a resurgence of infections triggering another state of emergency,” he said as he was heading to his office.

A 55-year-old taxi driver in Osaka said he will probably go out dining with his family. “But I won’t go out for drinking parties as I’m scared of infections,” he said.

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