Chain operators suspend operations amid COVID-19 restrictions

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A closed izakaya pub is seen in Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture, on Friday.

Several izakaya pub chain operators are suspending operations at outlets in areas subject to the government’s quasi-emergency priority measures amid a new surge of COVID-19 cases, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

The priority measures were put in place in Tokyo and 12 other prefectures on Friday in response to the rapid spread of the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. Three other prefectures were placed under restrictions earlier this month.

Under the measures, dining establishments in affected areas are requested to shorten their business hours. Some izakaya chain operators have opted to suspend operations, according to the survey which was compiled at 6 p.m. on Friday. The measures will likely deal a new blow to the food service industry, though previously, many restaurants experienced a recovery in customer numbers when infections subsided.

Watami Co. will suspend operations at about 60 izakaya outlets from Sunday — about one-third of its establishments in the prefectures covered by the measures. Most of these outlets are in suburban areas. “These places welcome customers later in the day, compared to outlets in city center business districts,” a public relations official said. “So they can’t expect that many patrons if they shorten their business hours.”

Colowide Co., which operates izakaya and karaoke outlets, has suspended operations at about 130 outlets on the basis that shorter business hours will lead to a loss of income.

Prefectural governments vary in their stance on the provision of alcoholic beverages. For example, the Saitama prefectural government is asking restaurants to check if customers have had at least two COVID-19 vaccine shots before serving alcohol. As this step can be burdensome for both sides, many restaurant chain operators that do not focus on alcohol have opted to suspend sales of such drinks.

Skylark Holdings Co., which runs the Gusto chain, among other brands, continues to serve alcohol at outlets in Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture, though has stopped doing so in Saitama and five other prefectures.

Sukiya Co., which operates a gyudon restaurant chain, is suspending alcohol sales in areas affected by the priority measures. “Operations will become complicated if we’re able to serve alcohol at some times, but not others,” an official said. “Additionally, our customers will likely find it difficult to understand if we offer services that differ depending on an outlet’s location.”

Amusement parks are limiting visitor numbers at the request of the central and local governments.

Starting Friday, Oriental Land Co. is limiting daily admissions to 20,000 for each of the Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea theme parks in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture. The Yomiuriland amusement park, which straddles Inagi, Tokyo and Kawasaki, introduced Friday a 5,000 cap on visitor numbers, though this limit will be increased to 20,000 from Jan. 29 through Feb. 13, based on the reinforcement of anti-infection measures.