The Tokyo metropolitan government plans to end next week its policy of asking establishments serving alcohol in the capital's central 23 wards to close by 10 p.m., as the number of coronavirus cases has been trending downward in recent days, a source familiar with the situation said Wednesday.
The removal of the request could take place on Tuesday and the metropolitan government is expected to lower its virus alert by one notch from the highest of four levels, which means "infections are spreading."
The plan will be finalized following talks with a panel of experts on Thursday, the source said.
In a related development, Japan will consider raising the upper limit for the number of spectators at sports, concerts and other events to up to 20,000 from the current 5,000, according to a senior government official.
The government will weigh raising the ceiling following a request from the country's pro baseball and soccer leagues to raise the maximum attendance to 20,000 spectators or 50 percent of a venue's capacity, whichever is less.
"We will take into account their request and consider it," Yasutoshi Nishimura, economic revitalization minister in charge of coronavirus response, said at a press conference, adding the new rule may be imposed in time for a four-day weekend in Japan starting Sept. 19.
Under the current rule, venues for events are allowed to hold up to 50 percent of their capacity or up to a total of 5,000 people as part of measures to prevent the virus spread. The government will discuss easing the limit during a meeting with a panel of medical experts on Friday.
Japan logged over 500 new virus infections on Wednesday, down from the 1,300-1,500 level in early August.
The number of virus cases in Tokyo has also been trending downward. On Wednesday, the capital reported 149 new cases, down from 300 to 500 in early to mid-August.
Tokyo raised its alert for the coronavirus pandemic to the highest of the four levels on July 15 following a spike in infections in the capital.
The request for establishments serving alcohol and karaoke bars to shorten their hours was initially scheduled to be lifted at the end of August.
However, the metropolitan government decided late last month to extend it for establishments in Tokyo's 23 wards, where many cases of infections were found.
The request for shorter hours from Aug. 3, has already ended outside of the heart of the capital.
The Japanese government initially planned to ease the spectator 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.