For the first time in nearly six months, the Japanese government has lifted its Covid-19 state of emergency amid lowered infections, starting 30 September 2021.
Outgoing Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that he would cease the restrictions for Tokyo and 18 other areas that make up about 75% of Japan’s economy, as the government works to gradually ease curbs such as restricting sales of alcohol and having places like eateries and pubs close early.
“The fight against the coronavirus is entering a new phase,” Suga said at a 28 September meeting. “While we prepare for the next wave of infections, the government must continue to work as one to enable people to combine virus precautions with everyday life.”
Suga mentioned that he is proud of the progress that Japan has made with vaccinations and the government is looking to start booster shots by the end of the year.
The country’s vaccination programme continues to proceed steadily, with more than 58% of the population fully immunised, putting Japan just ahead of the US.
The government is currently considering ways of using vaccination certificates and test results to help ease restrictions while still maintaining safety precautions. Suga believes that the country’s health care system is increasingly able to cope with a certain level of infections, but he continues to encourage the public to wear masks.
Under the plan to ease restrictions, the government will permit restaurants to resume serving alcohol and close at later hours, provided they are certified as having steps in place to prevent infections.
Certified bars and restaurants that take precautions such as installing perspex screens and adequate ventilation would be allowed to serve alcohol and to open until 9pm at the discretion of local authorities, Suga added.
Among the eased restrictions, the number of spectators at major sporting events or concerts will increase from 5,000 to a maximum of 10,000, or 50% of the venue's capacity.
Further easing of measures may potentially allow people to dine in larger groups, and travel across prefectural borders if they have been fully vaccinated or are able to provide proof of negative test results.
As well, Suga has expressed intentions to relax quarantine rules for overseas travellers who are fully vaccinated from 14 to 10 days, and ease the existing entry ban on such travellers into Japan — including for short-term business trips and international students.