Japan’s restaurants and bars welcome drinkers again as COVID-19 controls relax

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Winds and rain from the typhoon dampened what could have been a more festive mood in Tokyo on Friday, as restaurants were allowed to sell alcohol and stay open later after the last one lifted. COVID-19 state of emergency.

FILE PHOTO: Employees of Sasaki Saketen, a liquor wholesaler company, carry out work to ship barrels of beer as the Japanese government is expected to lift the state of emergency in all areas amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan September 28, 2021. REUTERS / Issei Kato / File Photo

Japan is cautiously easing restrictions that have prevailed in much of the country for nearly six months. New cases of COVID in Tokyo totaled 200 on Friday, a steep drop from more than 5,000 a day in August amid a fifth wave driven by the infectious variant Delta that brought the medical system to the brink of collapse.

The restrictions, intended to mitigate infections by reducing mobility and interactions, have been particularly severe for the service sector.

Minoru Sasaki, president of liquor wholesaler Sasaki Co., said about 20% of his customers had to close their doors during the pandemic, and he was relieved that people could now drink in restaurants again. .

“I am very happy!” Sasaki spoke about easing. “Employees can’t wait to get back to business. So far, they’ve talked about how they’ll need to diet to lose the weight they’ve gained in the meantime. Everyone thinks positively which is a big help.

Businesses large and small braced to welcome drinkers starting Friday, even as the rain fell in sheets.

BEER ORDER JUMP

Suntory Holdings Ltd said orders for kegs and bottles of beer rose 230% as Friday approached, compared to the previous week. Breweries run by Kirin Holdings Co and Sapporo Holdings Ltd have reopened with increased infection controls, such as plastic partitions, air quality meters and limits on the number of people per party.

But even as cases decline and the number of fully vaccinated Japanese reaches 60% of the population – above the US level – public health experts worry about a possible rebound this winter that could send back the country in a new emergency.

“After such a long state of emergency, from today there will be a lot of people wanting to come out, and that could lead to a faster rebound,” said Koji Wada, professor of public health at the Tokyo International University of Health and Welfare.

“These rebounds tend to happen within about three weeks when there are no vaccines, so a key point will be how we get past that time now that the vaccination has progressed, and also to beware of a possible worsening of the situation around November., “he added.

Even from today, some voluntary restrictions will remain in place.

Restaurants and bars can only serve alcohol until 8 p.m. and are requested to close at 9 p.m. wave.

Throughout the pandemic, Japan has avoided the kind of severe trade and travel lockdowns imposed in Europe and the United States, relying mainly on strong demands and social pressure to gain public compliance.

But not everyone plays the game. Global-Dining Inc, which operates 43 restaurants, including one that inspired the movie “Kill Bill: Volume I,” sued the Tokyo government for trying to impose restrictions on its opening hours and alcohol sales.

“I don’t think we would do anything special,” Managing Director Kozo Hasegawa said of the easing of restrictions.

“We operate our restaurants as usual, with the exception of those in shopping malls.”

Reporting by Rocky Swift, Issei Kato, Irene Wang; Editing by Gareth Jones


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