Japan gov't plans lifting alcohol ban even under COVID emergency

© Kyodo News

The Japanese government plans to allow restaurants to serve alcohol even in areas under a COVID-19 emergency if sufficient steps are taken to prevent infections, according to a draft plan for restarting economic and social activities, government sources said Friday.

The plan is likely to be adopted in October or November, when all people who wish to be vaccinated are expected to have been fully inoculated. But some experts on infectious diseases remain cautious over relaxing the current measures.

Under the plan, the government will not ask residents to refrain from traveling across prefectural borders and will consider resuming its subsidy campaign to boost domestic tourism battered by the pandemic, the sources said.

The government aims to release the plan in the near future, but it could stir controversy as Japan is in the midst of coping with a resurgence of infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, putting a strain on the country's health care system.

In relaxing the current measures, the plan says the spread of the virus can be controlled to a certain extent if vaccination progresses, on the premise that basic countermeasures are in place, the sources said.

Among eased measures are allowing restaurants to offer alcohol and open for longer hours. The government also plans to relax restrictions on the number of people attending large events if thorough countermeasures are taken, the sources said.

The government's COVID-19 advisory panel will hold a meeting later Friday to discuss the measures and will compile proposals for how people's lives can progress when the vaccination rate rises, the source said.

A total of 21 of Japan's 47 prefectures have been placed under the state of emergency, with restaurants asked not to serve alcohol or offer karaoke and instructed to close by 8 p.m.

The emergency is currently set to expire on Sept. 12, but it is seen as increasingly difficult for the government to lift the measure given the current situation, as infections remain high across the country.