Japan eases virus rule to allow more people at sports, movie venues

Kyodo News

Posted at Sep 19 2020 05:21 PM

People attend a concert in Osaka, Japan, March 25, 2020. Japan has puzzled epidemiologists as it has avoided the grim situations in places like Italy and New York without draconian restrictions on movement, economically devastating lockdowns or even widespread testing. Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times/File

TOKYO - Japan on Saturday relaxed a rule limiting the size of crowds at professional sports matches, movie theaters and other events amid signs of a recent plateauing in nationwide coronavirus cases.

Both Nippon Professional Baseball and soccer's J-League held matches Saturday with over 10,000 spectators after the government lifted the 5,000-person cap on large events, allowing the sporting bodies to hold them with up to 50 percent of capacity.

For small cinemas and theaters deemed to have low infection risk, the 50 percent attendance cap has been fully scrapped. T Joy Co., which operates around 20 cinema complexes across Japan, and numerous mini theaters began allowing all seats at venues to be booked from first screenings on Saturday.

But major movie theater chains Toho Cinemas and Aeon Cinema, as well as operators of live stage shows and concerts, have decided to keep the 50 percent restriction in place for the time being.

Among professional baseball teams, the DeNA BayStars raised the spectator cap to 16,000 at Yokohama Stadium, the Yomiuri Giants to 19,000 at Tokyo Dome and the Yakult Swallows to 14,500 at Jingu Stadium in Tokyo.

Japan's economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of the response to the pandemic, said at a press conference Friday that avoiding the 3Cs -- confined spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings -- was a prerequisite for relaxing restrictions.

"I want (business operators) to thoroughly enforce basic measures to prevent the spread of the virus," he said.

The government will decide whether to keep the attendance rule in place beyond November after reviewing the novel coronavirus and seasonal influenza infection trends.

The Tokyo metropolitan government on Friday confirmed 220 more coronavirus cases, exceeding 200 for the first time since Sept. 12. The capital's cumulative total now stands at 23,828, by far the highest among Japan's 47 prefectures.

Since mid-August, the number of new cases has been trending downward, with Tokyo confirming 77 daily infections on Sept. 7, the lowest in almost 2 months. The capital has downgraded its coronavirus alert to the second highest of 4 levels, meaning "vigilance against a resurgence of the virus is needed."

Across Japan, the single-day tally on Friday exceeded 570, bringing the total number of infections to around 78,800, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February. The death toll stood at 1,510.