Japan will relax its coronavirus-induced rules on holding big events from Friday as planned, boosting the maximum number of people allowed at an indoor venue to 5,000, a minister said Monday.
A revamped government expert panel gave the go-ahead to the plan to take a further step away from emergency mode, on the premise that preventive measures against the virus are taken, said economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is in charge of the government's coronavirus response.
Starting Friday, the number of people allowed to gather at indoor venues for sporting events or music concerts will increase to a maximum 5,000 at a time from the current 1,000. The venues should be at 50 percent capacity.
Japan's professional baseball and soccer games have been held without spectators but both leagues plan to start allowing them in line with the government move from Friday.
As Japan fully emerged from a state of emergency declared over the coronavirus in late May, the government has been seeking to rebalance the economy and infection prevention. Economic and social activities have gradually resumed.
The expert panel, meeting for the first time, stressed the need to share real-time information on infected people across the nation and enhance virus testing.
Tokyo has been battling to stem a recent rise in newly reported coronavirus cases with the daily count topping 100 for the fifth straight day on Monday. So far, the Japanese capital of about 14 million has reported 6,867 cases, the largest among the country's 47 prefectures.
Despite the government's assessment that the infection situation in the country has been under control, Tokyo is being hit by renewed concerns about a resurgence of the virus.
"It's our common recognition that the situation is different from that in early April when the state of emergency was declared" first for Tokyo and other urban areas, Nishimura told a press conference. The emergency was later expanded to the entire nation.
Nishimura said most of the newly reported cases were among young people who did not develop severe symptoms, the medical care system is not stretched and virus tests are more widely available.
But the panel remains vigilant about untraceable transmission routes, the minister said.
The 18-member panel includes experts in medicine, public health policy and economics as well as a prefectural governor.
The government had received advice from a similar panel of medical experts in navigating through the coronavirus epidemic before and in the midst of Japan's state of emergency.
But the previous panel, which was apparently misconstrued by some as setting policies for the government, was suddenly scrapped last month.
The new panel will mainly assess the infection situation, discuss how to allow more economic activities to resume and increase virus testing.
The total number of coronavirus cases in Japan has surpassed 19,900, excluding about 700 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined near Tokyo in February. The death toll is at 991.