Photo/Illutration Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike during a COVID-19 pandemic expert panel meeting on Jan. 6 (Kayoko Sekiguchi)

The Tokyo metropolitan government is considering tightening restrictions on customer numbers at bars and restaurants to tackle the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

“The fight against the coronavirus has entered a new phase,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said on Jan. 6.

Koike said the metropolitan government will review its current policy concerning bars and restaurants, which limits the number of people sharing a table to eight or fewer. She also said stronger rules could be imposed for the number of people who can use metropolitan government facilities.

The governor said she will listen to experts on whether Tokyo should ask the central government for pre-emergency measures against the latest surge in infections.

Concerns over the rapid spread of more contagious Omicron variant were shared at a meeting of an expert panel advising the metropolitan government on its response to the pandemic.

In the week to Jan. 5, a daily average of new COVID-19 cases was 135 in Tokyo, more than triple the average of 44 in the previous week.

Panel member Norio Omagari of the Disease Control and Prevention Center under the National Center for Global Health and Medicine said the threefold increase is “a high level not previously experienced.”

Tests conducted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health and others showed that the rate of COVID-19 cases believed to have been caused by the Omicron variant jumped from 9.1 percent to 44.6 percent during a week until Jan. 3.

“We have little choice but to make a decision to decrease contact among people,” Koike said after the panel meeting.

She said details of the restrictions would be decided after consultations with experts.

(This article was written by Shin Kasahara and Taichi Kobayashi.)