Photo/Illutration Customers seek alcoholic beverages in the Akabane district of Tokyo’s Kita Ward on June 21, a day after the COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted. (Keita Yamaguchi)

The lifting of the COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo allowed businesses to serve alcohol for the first time in about two months, but continued restrictions dampened the spirit of both operators and customers.

In Tokyo and six prefectures where the emergency state ended on June 20, pre-emergency measures took effect the following day. In the capital, those curbs include serving only groups of one or two customers, and limiting the drinking time to less than 90 minutes.

The same pre-emergency measures were also extended for the three prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa that neighbor Tokyo.

Those affected questioned whether the measures would do anything to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus infections or how to enforce such rules. Others said the curbs have led to confusion.

A woman in her 30s who was enjoying some drinks with a co-worker on a terrace table of an “izakaya” pub in the Akabane district in Tokyo’s Kita Ward, gave her opinion on the efficacy of the pre-emergency measures.

“If I am asked to leave 90 minutes later, I will just find another place to drink,” she said. “It is questionable how effectively such measures can prevent the virus from spreading.”

Akabane, which is filled with small drinking establishments tightly packed together, is known for places where one can “get drunk with only 1,000 yen ($9).”

One izakaya in the area said that when it asked groups of three to split up, the would-be customers decided to drink elsewhere.

“I am thankful that we can offer alcohol, but whether we can recover sales is unknown,” the 35-year-old manager of the izakaya said.

In Saitama and Kawaguchi cities in Saitama Prefecture, customers are asked to drink alone or only with family members who live together.

Around JR Kawaguchi Station, one train stop north of Akabane, a woman in her 50s visited the Kakuuchi Arai Shoten bar and also expressed doubts about the effectiveness of the rules.

“If somebody wants to drink with another person, I think they will go to the nearby Akabane district,” the part-time employee said.

The thirtysomething owner of an izakaya around the train station said it is difficult to know whether customers are in the same family and if they actually live together.

“Honestly speaking, even if they don’t meet the requirements, it is difficult to refuse customers’ requests for alcohol,” he said.

The lifting of the state of emergency allowed major izakaya operators to restart their businesses.

Pub operator Kichiri & Co. had suspended operations of 50 establishments, half of its businesses, during the state of emergency.

Masaki Tsunoji, a sales promotion official of the reopened Kichiri izakaya pub in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, said, “The state of emergency that just ended should be the last one.”

Restaurant operator Watami Co., Colowide Co., which runs the Amataro izakaya chain, Syoya izakaya chain operator Daisyo Corp., and British-style pub operator Hub Inc. partially restarted their businesses on June 21.

Alcohol-serving restrictions differ according to area, so each izakaya chain is checking how their establishments should respond to those requirements.

“Service staff shoulder a heavier burden in explaining the rules to customers, which might cause trouble,” an izakaya chain spokesman said.

(This article was written by Keita Yamaguchi, Takaaki Fujino and Takumi Wakai.)