Coronavirus restrictions on eateries were lifted in the Tokyo area and Osaka on Monday despite concerns over a resurgence of COVID infections.
Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba as well as Osaka eliminated curbs on the serving of alcohol and the operating hours that had been introduced to keep coronavirus infections from spreading.
For the capital and Osaka, this is the first removal of such countermeasures against COVID-19 in 11 months, with Tokyo reporting 19 daily cases on Sunday, the fewest since June 17 last year.
Nationwide coronavirus cases dropped to 236 Sunday, compared to over 25,000 reported in mid-August in the fifth wave of infections.
Some 102,000 eateries in Tokyo have been certified as having taken the necessary coronavirus measures and are no longer subject to a request to stop serving alcohol by 8 p.m. Around 18,000 noncertified dining establishments will remain under the old restrictions and must stop serving by 9 p.m.
"I am grateful that we can work normally now," said a 40-year-old female member of staff at a bar in Tokyo's Kabukicho nightlife district.
In the western prefecture of Osaka, a senior staff member at a Japanese-style "izakaya" pub said he had long awaited the removal of COVID-19 restrictions.
"I want customers to come and drink more often," the 70-year-old said.
Still, restaurant and bar operators are worried whether customers will return as they used to before the pandemic, given the concerns that the lifting of such restrictions may cause another surge of infections.
"Some people may still be worried (about infections), I'm not sure if customers will really return to drink," said Takashi Shibuya, a 43-year-old manager at an "izakaya" pub in Asakusa, a popular destination in Tokyo among tourists.
Koichi Yoshida, a 63-year-old Tokyo resident of Adachi ward, said he may go out to drink but only in a small group.
"I'm scared of a resurgence of infections triggering another state of emergency," he said as he was heading to his office.
A 55-year-old taxi driver in Osaka said he will probably go out dining with his family but he will not drink alcohol as that is likely to raise the risk of becoming infected.