The Tokyo and Osaka governments said Thursday they will lift coronavirus restrictions on restaurants and bars from next week for the first time in 11 months as infections continue to decline across Japan.
The metropolitan and prefectural governments decided to eliminate restrictions on eateries serving alcohol as well as their operating hours from Monday despite concerns about a potential "sixth" wave of the virus in winter.
Once the restrictions are eliminated in Tokyo, around 102,000 eateries certified as implementing anti-virus measures will no longer be asked to stop serving alcohol by 8 p.m. and to close by 9 p.m.
As for the around 18,000 noncertified dining establishments, the metropolitan government will ask them to stop serving alcohol by 9 p.m.
In Osaka Prefecture, meanwhile, around 41,800 certified establishments are currently required to stop providing alcohol by 8:30 p.m. and close by 9 p.m.
The Tokyo metropolitan government will in principle continue to limit the number of people who can sit at the same table to four. But five or more will be allowed if they present proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.
The Osaka prefectural government will also continue to limit the number of people who can sit together in eateries to four, while calling on the public to refrain from dining for longer than two hours.
The limits on the number of customers will be effective through November in both Tokyo and Osaka while the authorities study whether the measures should be kept in place.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters it is hoped the lifting of restrictions on eateries will significantly stimulate the economy, while adding she is reluctant to "suddenly step on the accelerator."
"In December, we'll have uncertain factors (that can lead to the spread of infections) such as people participating in year-end parties or traveling to hometowns during the holiday. We will proceed while watching the situation."
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said at a press conference, "The number of infections has been greatly reduced and the pressure on the medical system has been relieved," expressing gratitude to the public and eatery owners for their cooperation.
In a similar move, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures, which neighbor Osaka, will lift restrictions on eateries Friday. Three prefectures surrounding Tokyo -- Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama -- have decided to do so from Monday, while Okinawa in southwestern Japan is planning to follow suit on Nov. 1.
Nationwide coronavirus infections peaked at around 25,000 per day in August, triggered by the highly contagious Delta variant, but have since steadily declined. A state of emergency covering Tokyo, Osaka and 17 other prefectures was lifted on Oct. 1.
On Thursday, 345 infections were reported across Japan, with Tokyo and Osaka logging 36 and 42 new COVID-19 cases, respectively.
Around 68 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated.