Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Friday, 26 February, that the government would lift the COVID-19-related state of emergency in the six prefectures of Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Aichi, Gifu, and Fukuoka on 1 March.
Suga said the state of emergency will remain for the four prefectures in the Tokyo metropolitan area – Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama – until at least 7 March.
The emergency was initially declared in Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures on 8 January. On 14 January, Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, Aichi, Gifu, Fukuoka, and Tochigi prefectures were added to the list. Tochigi was not covered by an extension on 7 February that was scheduled to be lifted on 7 March.
The early lifting for some prefectures was in response to a request from several governors due to falling transmission rates and an easing of the hospital bed shortage. In Osaka, for instance, the number of newly infected people was 80 per day, and the usage rate of beds for the severely ill was about 40 percent, according to figures shared during the 39th Osaka Prefecture New Coronavirus Countermeasures Headquarters Meeting.
A big issue regarding the safety of eating out – a topic that was also discussed during the Osaka meeting – had been that many restaurants post “Infection Prevention Declaration Stickers” that can be downloaded from the internet. The stickers are meant to notify diners that the restaurant has implemented measures against COVID-19, but many restaurants using the stickers have incomplete measures in place. Additionally, meeting participants said they noticed that the promoted method of eating while wearing a mask – by lowering one side of the mask to take a bite and then replacing it – doesn’t seem to be catching on.
Japan’s state of emergency is mostly voluntary, with no hard lockdown instated. The most onerous measures in the country are requirements for bars and restaurants to serve alcohol only between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and to close by 8 a.m. Cooperating establishments will be compensated for lost sales up to JPY 60,000 (USD 572, EUR 465) per day. In the Tokyo area, a survey of restaurants revealed that the number of customers had fallen by nearly 70 percent under the restrictions, compared to the same time last year.
In Osaka, despite the lifting of the state of emergency, restaurant operating hours will only be extended to 9 p.m.
High-end seafood like bluefin tuna has been hardest hit by the drop in dining out, while everyday home-use fish like mackerel have seen sales gains. Companies in Japan have been asked to boost the percentage of employees allowed to work remotely, leading to fewer lunches out by office workers.
The national government's advisory panel has published a list of recommendations to follow to prevent a rebound in the COVID-19 transmission rate, including keeping the number of people who dine together under four – all of whom must have regular contact with each other – and refraining from eating and drinking while viewing cherry blossoms this spring.
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