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Japan’s restaurants, bars welcome back drinkers

TOKYO

Typhoon winds and rain dampened what might have been a more celebratory mood in Tokyo today, as restaurants were allowed to sell alcohol and stay open later following the lifting of the latest Covid-19 state of emergency.

Japan is cautiously easing restrictions that have prevailed across much of the nation for nearly six months. New Covid cases in Tokyo totaled 200 today, a pointy drop from over 5,000 daily in August amid a fifth wave driven by the infectious Delta variant that brought the medical system to the brink.

The restrictions, intended to blunt infections by reducing mobility and interaction, are particularly tough on the service sector.

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

“I’m really happy!” Sasaki said about the easing. “The employees are looking forward to getting back to business. Up to now, they’ve been talking about how they’ll need to diet to shed the weight they’ve gained within the meantime. most are thinking positively, which could be a big help.”

Businesses large and small prepared to welcome in drinkers from Friday, whilst the rain fell in sheets.

Beer orders jump

Suntory Holdings Ltd said orders for beer kegs and bottles were up 230 percent within the run-up to today, compared to the previous week. Beer halls run by Kirin Holdings Co and Sapporo Holdings Ltd reopened with heightened infection controls, like plastic partitions, air quality meters, and limits on the number of people per party.

But whilst cases subside and the number of Japanese fully vaccinated reaches 60 percent of the population — above the amount within us — public health experts are concerned about a couple of possible rebounds this winter that would send the country back to one more emergency situation.

“After such a long state of emergency, from today there’ll be tons of people wanting to leave, which could lead to a quicker rebound,” said Koji Wada, professor of public health at the International University of Health and Welfare in Tokyo.

“These rebounds tend to happen within about three weeks when there are not any vaccines, so a key point is to see how we do beyond that time now that vaccination has progressed, and also to be wary of a possible worsening of matters around November,” he added.

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

Restaurants and bars can only serve alcohol until 8 pm and are asked to close at 9 pm the govt has said such restrictions are also be lifted further with the implementation of a system to see vaccination or Covid-19 testing status, but details on the plan remain sketchy.

Throughout the pandemic, Japan has eschewed the kind of harsh lockdowns on commerce and travel imposed in Europe and the us, relying mostly on strong requests and social pressure to gain compliance from the public.

But not everyone plays along. Global-Dining Inc, which runs 43 restaurants including one that inspired the movie Kill Bill: Volume I, has sued the Tokyo government for trying to impose curbs on its operating hours and sales of alcohol.

“I don’t think we might do anything special,” Chief Executive Kozo Hasegawa said about the restriction easing.

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