Japan plans to relax a rule limiting the size of crowds at professional sports, concerts and other events around Sept. 19 at the earliest amid signs coronavirus cases are decreasing nationwide, government officials said Tuesday.

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. The government will discuss easing the restrictions, including the 5,000-person cap, when it holds a meeting with a panel of health experts on Friday, sources familiar with the matter said.

Nippon Professional Baseball and the J-League, Japan's professional soccer league, jointly submitted their request to the government asking to raise the maximum attendance to 20,000 spectators or 50 percent of a venue's capacity, whichever is less.

File photo shows a baseball game between the Orix Buffaloes and the Rakuten Eagles being played behind closed doors at Kyocera Dome in June 2020. (Kyodo)

"We have been doing well (in preventing infections) while amending our guidelines to ensure that spectators can enjoy a safe and secure environment. That in itself is being effective," NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito said.

Hoping to revive the pandemic-hit economy, the government aims to relax the rule in time for a four-day weekend in Japan starting Sept. 19.

Speaking at a press conference, Yasutoshi Nishimura, economic revitalization minister in charge of coronavirus response, said anti-virus measures should also be discussed thoroughly at Friday's meeting.

Nishimura said last month the government might relax the restriction before the end of September if the daily number of new infections substantially decreases.

The government initially planned to ease the 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.

At Friday's meeting, the health experts may also discuss whether the government can add trips to and from Tokyo to its travel subsidy campaign, according to the sources.

Such trips have been excluded from the controversial "Go To Travel" campaign, launched in July to revive the domestic tourism industry, as the capital has seen a much higher number of daily infections than other prefectures.

The number of virus cases in Tokyo has been trending downward since mid-August after seeing daily increases of 300 to 400 at the beginning of that month.

While the metropolitan government on Monday reported the lowest number of daily infections since July 8 at 77, it confirmed Tuesday 170 new cases, bringing the capital's cumulative total to 22,019, the highest by far among Japan's 47 prefectures.

Nationwide, more than 500 new cases were confirmed, pushing the cumulative total above 73,000 including about 700 from the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February. The death toll has exceeded 1,400.

As part of measures to fight the virus, the Cabinet decided Tuesday to use 671.4 billion yen ($6.3 billion) in reserve funds to purchase coronavirus vaccines currently being developed by drugmakers, Finance Minister Taro Aso said at a press conference.

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