After years of battling epidemic limitations, restaurateurs' hopes for their restaurants to be bustling once more with hungry and thirsty clients soared as walls came down.
When COVID-19 was upgraded to a Class V disease under the infectious diseases control law on May 8, it was Tsubohachi Co., which largely owns and manages chains of "izakaya" pubs, that eliminated partitions at 150 locations nationwide.
Transparent plastic partitions that were put in place at a Tsubohachi pub in Tokyo's Asakusa neighborhood to divide patrons and stop infections were removed from all 30 tables.
Some of the partitions will be kept by the bar and returned when asked by patrons.
"Partitions were like 'walls,'" claimed Yuichiro Yamada, a company representative. "Now that the walls have been torn down, we are interested to see how customers respond."
Due to customers staying away from the three Cs of closed, crowded, and close contact environments, particularly those dining in groups, the extended pandemic had a significant negative impact on the restaurant industry's bottom line.
According to projections by the Japan Foodservice Association, the industry's estimated value of 26.3 trillion yen ($194.76 billion) in 2019 decreased by more than 30 percent to roughly 16.9 trillion yen in 2021.
However, according to business representatives, people have been coming back since 2022, and the COVID-19 downgrade is anticipated to further reduce consumers' psychological barriers to eating and drinking out.
Customers that arrive in large numbers for drinking parties might expect especially high expectations.
According to a spokeswoman for Watami Co., which also runs chains of izakaya, "We are coming back to life as tatami rooms are frequently filled with banqueters, a scene typical of an izakaya." "We anticipate that demand will increase even more."
In April, the Sendai Kokusai Hotel fully reopened its once-closed dining hall.
Although reservations are presently only at about 40% of pre-pandemic levels, managers anticipate that by March, when the current fiscal year ends, they will have increased to 70%.
Ikuo Noguchi, the hotel's president, declared, "We have endured the unimaginable." "During the pandemic, many individuals have come to understand how important it is to eat and drink together face to face. Our goal is to serve as a hub for social interaction.”
Satoshi Kutsuna, a professor of infectious disease control at Osaka University, cautioned that despite the downgrading, COVID-19 did not instantaneously become a non-threatened illness.
For the elderly and those with established problems, he claimed, it will remain terrible.
Even though both infectious diseases are currently classified as Class V, Kutsuna stated, "As things stand, we cannot say the threat it poses is the same as the threat the seasonal flu poses."
The novel coronavirus, according to him, can spread often throughout the year and is not a seasonal disease. The number of sufferers is anticipated to fluctuate between rising and falling in Japan, where a small proportion of people have contracted the disease spontaneously.
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