Japan is set to maintain restrictions on attendance at events such as professional sports games until the end of February as the head of the government's coronavirus response on Thursday warned of a worrying rise in infections.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister in charge of economic revitalization, said he felt a "sense of crisis" over the possibility of an "explosive spread" of COVID-19 across the country.
Japan currently limits large crowds to 50 percent of a venue's capacity. The plan to extend the cap beyond its Nov. 30 deadline was approved at a pandemic response meeting on Thursday.
The daily number of newly reported cases in the country has trended above 1,000 in recent days, with northern regions such as Hokkaido seeing a surge along with urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka.
Nishimura suggested falling temperatures and low humidity could exacerbate the outbreak as people head indoors into poorly ventilated and close-quarter situations.
"If the spread of infection continues we will have to take stronger measures," he said.
The Japanese government has sought to restart economic activity while keeping the coronavirus under control, rolling out a subsidy program for domestic travel to help the tourism industry weather the pandemic.
In September, Japan raised the limit on attendance at large events from 5,000 to 10,000 while keeping the 50 percent cap. It has also conducted tests at baseball stadiums in Tokyo and Yokohama using state-of-the-art cameras to study the effect of the three Cs -- closed spaces, crowded and close-contact settings.
Risks associated with "hatsumode," where people form long lines at Shinto shrines to offer the first prayer of the year, as well as existing restrictions on movie theaters serving food were also discussed at the meeting.
Meanwhile, Nishimura voiced concerns over COVID-19 spreading among foreign residents of Japan, saying they may be less inclined to wear face masks or visit hospitals when feeling ill.
To date, more than 110,000 confirmed cases have been reported across Japan, including about 700 from a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama in February. Over 1,800 deaths have been attributed to the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has vowed to keep the coronavirus under control and hold the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year after they were postponed for the first time in their 124-year modern history.
The government is planning to ease travel restrictions for athletes and staff participating in the Summer Games and is mulling whether to do the same for spectators.