Japan eyes easing virus rule to allow more people at events

Kyodo News

Posted at Sep 08 2020 05:30 PM

The main venue for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, which were postponed, on March 23, 2020. Noriko Hayashi, The New York Times/File

TOKYO - Japan plans to relax a rule limiting the size of crowds at professional sports, concerts and other events later this month amid signs that coronavirus cases are decreasing nationwide, government sources have said.

Under the current rule, venues are allowed to hold up to 50 percent of their capacity or up to a total of 5,000 people. The government is considering scrapping the 5,000-person cap as early as Sept. 19, the sources said.

The plan will be discussed when a panel of health experts meets on Friday. The relaxation of the rule comes as part of government efforts to revive the pandemic-hit economy. The move would coincide with a 4-day weekend in Japan starting Sept. 19.

Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said last month the government might relax the restriction before the end of September if the daily number of new infections substantially decreases.

Event operators and spectators will be required to take thorough measures to prevent both the resurgence of the virus and spread of seasonal influenza, said the sources.

Nippon Professional Baseball and the J-League, Japan's professional soccer league, jointly submitted their request to ease the spectator cap to the government on Tuesday.

The government initially planned to ease the limit on Aug. 1, but it was later extended to the end of August and then to the end of this month as the country struggled to contain the virus.

At Friday's meeting, the health experts may also discuss whether the government can add trips to and from Tokyo to its travel subsidy campaign, according to the sources.

Such trips have been excluded from the controversial "Go To Travel" campaign, launched in July to revive the domestic tourism industry, as the capital has seen a much higher number of daily infections than other prefectures.

The number of virus cases in Tokyo has been trending downward since mid-August after seeing daily increases of 300 to 400 daily at the beginning of that month.

While the metropolitan government on Monday reported the lowest number of daily infections since July 8 at 77, it confirmed Tuesday 170 new cases of infection, bringing the capital's cumulative total to 22,019, the highest by far among Japan's 47 prefectures.

As part of measures to fight the virus, the Cabinet decided Tuesday to use 671.4 billion yen ($6.3 billion) in reserve funds to purchase coronavirus vaccines currently being developed by drugmakers, Finance Minister Taro Aso said at a press conference.