Japan decided Friday to relax a rule limiting the size of crowds at professional sports, concerts and other events from Sept. 19 to expand social and economic activities amid signs nationwide coronavirus cases are moderating in recent days.
The government will lift the 5,000-person cap on large events, allowing them to hold up to 50 percent of their capacity, officials said following a meeting of a panel of experts.
Under the current rule, venues for such events are allowed to hold up to 50 percent of their capacity or up to a total of 5,000 people.
As for smaller events with limited human interaction, such as classical music concerts and ballet performances, an attendance cap will be fully scrapped. The restrictions will remain in place for live music events.
Japan's economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura in charge of pandemic response said Friday the new rule will be in place until the end of November.
The government will decide whether to keep the attendance rule in place beyond November after reviewing the trend of virus infections and seasonal spread of influenza.
"We may review the rules if the situation of the pandemic worsens or clusters of infections occur due to easing of the attendance limit," he said.
Nishimura also said the government plans to include Tokyo in its domestic travel subsidy program from Oct. 1, after having excluded the capital from the campaign since its start in July amid a spike in coronavirus cases.
A final decision on the matter will be made at a later date, he added.
The plan comes a day after the Tokyo metropolitan government lowered its virus alert by one level from the highest of four and decided to end next Tuesday its request for establishments serving alcohol in the capital's central areas to shorten their business hours.
"The struggling Tokyo tourism industry's recovery will gain momentum and Tokyoites are looking forward to (the inclusion)," Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said in a press conference on Friday.
Photo taken at a travel company in Nagoya, central Japan, on July 21, 2020, shows leaflets on the government's travel subsidy campaign starting the following day to revive a domestic travel industry heavily battered by the coronavirus pandemic. (Kyodo)
She also called on people to take thorough action to prevent the spread of infections if they use the subsidy campaign.
The travel campaign, designed to help the tourism industry recover from the virus pandemic, was launched July 22 without Tokyo as the number of daily cases in the capital continued to hit record-highs at the time.
Under the 1.35 trillion yen ($12.7 billion) campaign, travelers currently enjoy a 35 percent discount on their expenses centering on accommodation fees.
However, from Oct. 1, they will also be able to receive coupons worth 15 percent of total costs that can be used for food, shopping and other activities offered at destinations.
At least 7.81 million people are estimated to have stayed in hotels between July 27 and Sept. 3 under the subsidy program, according to the Japan Tourism Agency.
But shortly before its start the central government decided not to include trips by residents of Tokyo and journeys to and from the capital in the campaign.
The inclusion of Tokyo, which has a population of nearly 14 million, will likely help regional areas to attract more tourists.
Still, concerns persist that it could trigger a resurgence of infections in other parts of Japan, with the tourism ministry asking accommodation facilities to take sufficient countermeasures.
"I will appreciate people visiting from Tokyo but I am worried that the number of infections might increase," said Yuki Ito, who works at a souvenir shop in Okinawa, a popular tourist destination.
The metropolitan government on Friday confirmed 187 more coronavirus cases, down from the previous day's 276. The capital's cumulative total now stands at 22,631, still by far the highest among Japan's 47 prefectures.
Since mid-August, the number of new cases has been trending downward. On Monday, Tokyo confirmed 77 daily infections, the lowest since July 8.
Under the capital's alert system, the second-highest level means "vigilance against a resurgence of the virus is needed."
Across Japan, the single-day tally on Friday exceeded 640, bringing the total number of infections to around 75,300, including about 700 from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February. The death toll stood at 1,441.