Japan formally decided Friday to remove an existing spectator cap on attendance at large-scale events as well as ease rules on eating and drinking establishments, mostly relating to any future COVID-19 state of emergency, as the country has seen a sharp decline in new and serious cases of the novel coronavirus.
Under the new plan approved by the government's COVID-19 task force, full attendance at venues will be allowed under certain conditions, including putting in place a system to check whether visitors have been vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus.
"We will take every possible step to protect the lives and health of people even under the next wave of infections so people can continue to lead safe and secure everyday lives," said economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is in charge of the government's coronavirus response.
Attendance at large-scale events, such as professional sports games and concerts, has been capped at 5,000 spectators or 50 percent of venue capacity, whichever is larger. But such limits will be lifted if, in addition to checking vaccination and testing status, event organizers must submit their own anti-virus plans to prefectural governments, including steps to ban loud cheering.
The new rules are expected to be implemented from late November. The move comes as more than 75 percent of the country's population has been fully vaccinated.
On Friday, about 160 new infections were reported nationwide, compared to a peak of over 25,000 in August.
Restaurants and bars recognized by local governments as having taken proper measures to prevent the spread of the virus, meanwhile, will be allowed to stay open until 9 p.m. under any future state of emergency, compared with 8 p.m. under current rules, and will be able to serve alcohol.
There will be no time restrictions applied for such establishments under the less strict quasi-state of emergency.
A current requirement that they request customers to limit group sizes to four people per table will be removed as long as business operators confirm customers' proof of vaccination or negative virus test results on site.
Vaccination certificates will be available after 14 days or more after individuals receive their second shots. Negative test results will be valid for three days after samples are taken.
COVID-19 test results for children under 6 will not be required if accompanied by a guardian, while those aged 6 to 11 will need a negative test result.
The government will also scrap its target of cutting commuters by 70 percent, although it will continue to encourage teleworking.
In addition, travelers and those on business trips can now cross prefectural borders freely if they hold proof of vaccination or a negative virus test result even under a state of emergency.
Under the previous virus emergencies, people were asked to refrain from making nonessential outings.
In preparation for a possible resurgence of the virus, the government said that it will enable hospitals to admit about 37,000 patients, up 30 percent from this summer, by the end of this month.