COVID-19 restaurant restrictions lifted in Japan

Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures have removed most restrictions for eating and drinking establishments.

Beginning 25 October, Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures have removed most restrictions for eating and drinking establishments that have had their anti-COVID-19 measures certified.

In order to meet the requirements to open, restaurants must have implemented measures to address ventilation, prevention of crowding, installation of plastic shields to separate customers at the tables, provision of disinfecting spray, and conduct temperature checks at their entrances. In Tokyo, 85 percent of bars and restaurants have been certified under the standards.

With the lifting of restrictions, Tokyo’s government will end subsidies for establishments that followed early closing-time requests. Tokyo will keep a voluntary restriction of no more than four diners per table, but is considering some form of immunization passport system for those wishing to gather in larger groups.

The national government’s “Go To Eat” campaign of discount vouchers for restaurant visits will also be restarted in many prefectures to stimulate business. Other prefectures are following suit on the relaxation of restrictions and the restarting of the Go To Eat program, though on different timetables, depending on their assessment of the risks. But the program, along with sister campaign, “Go To Travel,” was blamed by many for having contributed to the start of the fifth wave of COVID-19 infections in Japan, so prefecture-level authorities are planning to closely monitor infection levels as the programs are rolled out.

Limitations on operating hours and an alcohol-service ban – though voluntary in principle – had hit restaurants hard, reinforcing a shift away from eating out to home meal replacement. This shift contributed to a slump in the prices of high-end seafood items like bluefin tuna across Japan, while demand for lower-priced fish consumed at home, like mackerel, strengthened.

The country’s rising vaccination rate appears to have defeated the delta-variant-fueled fifth wave. In August, the number of daily cases briefly exceeded 25,000, but that figure was at just 367 on 20 October. In response, Japan lifted its COVID-19 state of emergency, which had covered 19 prefectures, at the end of September. Most affected prefectures then relaxed, but did not remove, restrictions on operating hours and the serving of alcohol at bars and restaurants during a one-month transition period.

Japan’s vaccination campaign got off to a laggard start, with the government slow to establish a vaccine-distribution system and prefectural and local governments unprepared to manage reservation systems. But the country’s immunization rate quickly rose when the Japan Defense Forces opened large-scale vaccination centers in major cities, and entities planning to vaccinate more than 1,000 people were allowed to give on-site inoculations.

By mid-September, Japan’s immunization rate exceeded that of the United States. At that time, 63.6 percent of Japanese had received at least a first shot, while 53.8 percent in the U.S. had done so. There is not a significant anti-vaccination movement in Japan. As of 19 October, 68.4 percent of Japanese were fully vaccinated. In the U.S., the figure lags, with 57.5 percent having received two shots.

Photo courtesy of Yusan Finna/Shutterstock


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