THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
October 22, 2021 at 17:06 JST
Customers converge on a popular area of Tokyo's Shibuya district on Oct. 1 when the COVID-19 state of emergency was lifted. (Nobuo Fujiwara)
Bars and restaurants in Tokyo and Osaka that have complied with authorities’ infection-prevention requests will soon resume normal business hours and alcohol sales for the first time in 11 months.
The two local governments decided on Oct. 21 to withdraw their nearly yearlong requests for curtailed operations and limits on serving booze on Oct. 25 but will keep some other restrictions in place to prevent another surge in novel coronavirus infections.
The lifted requests will apply to establishments certified by the local governments as having taken appropriate infection-prevention measures, including installing barriers between tables and customers and moving up their last calls for alcohol.
These businesses will be able to return to their business practices at near the level before the pandemic struck in 2020.
However, businesses that are not certified in Tokyo will be asked to stop serving alcohol at 9 p.m.
Requests to allow only up to four guests at one table will continue in both Tokyo and Osaka, even among the certified businesses.
The Tokyo metropolitan government on Nov. 1 will start using a new app that will allow businesses to confirm if customers have been vaccinated.
Those with such apps will be allowed to gather in groups of five or more at the same table at certified businesses.
About 102,000, or around 80 percent, of the 120,000 or so bars and restaurants in Tokyo are certified.
Of the 70,000 or so bars and restaurants in Osaka, about 42,000 had been certified as of Oct. 21.
The Osaka prefectural government will continue to ask for the four-customer limit per table until the end of November.
The three prefectures of Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba that neighbor Tokyo will also retract their business-restriction requests on Oct. 25.
The Okinawa prefectural government will continue with its requests until Oct. 31.
Although the COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo was lifted at the end of September, the metropolitan government designated the Oct. 1-24 period as one in which requests would continue to prevent a rebound in new COVID-19 cases.
The number of new infections has continued to decline in Tokyo, so the decision was made to lift the requests to certified businesses.
The daily average of new cases over the week until Sept. 30 was 257.6 in the capital. The average dropped to 43.6 for the week to Oct. 21.
Health experts, however, have warned that a sixth wave of new infections could hit Japan. They said surges in new COVID-19 cases have occurred in overseas nations, even with the spread of vaccinations.
Yoshihito Niki, a visiting professor of infectious diseases at Showa University, said there is a need for individuals to assess the safety of each business against possible infections.
“Customers should not let down their guard just because a business has been certified,” he said.
Niki said the two main points to observe were the degree of congestion and the level of ventilation.
Yoshihiro Ota, a vice chairman of the Japanese Association of Medical Care Corporations, also said those who have been vaccinated should not forget about breakthrough infections.
“(Vaccinated) people should realize there is still the possibility of becoming infected and passing the virus on to others, so they should keep that in mind when visiting bars and restaurants,” Ota said.
Niki said a different type of medical care structure would be needed to deal with the sixth wave of infections because the spread of vaccinations will likely lead to a decrease in patients with serious symptoms or who die from COVID-19.
“When infections are on the rise again, preparations should be made to handle patients with mild symptoms whose conditions may suddenly worsen,” Niki said.
(This article was compiled from reports by Rihito Karube, Yoshitaka Unezawa, Kae Terao, Kenta Noguchi and Naoyuki Himeno.)
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