Yesterday, the Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga announced that Japan would relax emergency measures in Tokyo and the country's other prefectures currently affected by a state-of-emergency order, lifting most COVID-19-related restrictions just five weeks before a dramatically scaled-back and already once-delayed Summer Olympics.
Meanwhile, the chief of the Olympic Games organizing committee, Seiko Hashimoto, said Friday that she wants to allow up to 10,000 spectators at Olympic events. despite the fact that a panel of Japanese medical experts warned Friday that barring spectators would be the safest option. As authorities wait on a final decision, authorities in Tokyo have decided to roll back some of the capital's controversial restrictions on alcohol consumption - but not to the degree that many consumers and business owners had hoped.
In what struck us as a conspicuously dystopian headline, Reuters reported Friday that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government plans to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol again starting Monday - but there's a catch. Customers who wish to drink have been asked to visit the bar alone - or with at most one other person - and they will only be allowed to stay a maximum of 90 minutes.
Tokyo's decision to allow patrons to drink alone, but not in groups, seems destined to be remembered as Japan's "rule of six" - an unpopular and seemingly arbitrary restriction.
Solitary drinkers will be allowed to order alcohol between 1700 and 1900 (bars and restaurants will still be required to close at 2000 Tokyo Time). The rules will keep restaurants and bars in the capital city from operating at full capacity during what's expected to be a busy summer for the city.
For the most recent state of emergency, Japan's third, authorities focused on alcohol, fearing that lowered inhibitions would lead to loud voices, lapses in hygiene and bellying up to the bar for too long, increasing the risks of aerosol contagion.
After the new measures were confirmed, Japanese took to social media to complain about the new rules and the seeming "double standard" given that the 2020 Summer Olympics are set to open in just over a month despite widespread opposition.
"Some say it's unrealistic to cancel the Olympics, but for restaurants it's unrealistic to continue with restrictions," one Twitter user wrote. "Ordinary citizens suffer restrictions, while those in power can do exactly what they want. Can we call this democracy?"
Japan's vaccination rollout has accelerated in recent weeks, while daily tallies of new cases and deaths have continued to decline.
A final decision on the number of domestic spectators allowed at Olympic events won't be made until Monday at the earliest. That meeting will include representatives from the Olympics 2020 organizers, the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, the Japanese government and the Tokyo Metropolitan government.