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About 300 eateries in Osaka Pref. found serving alcohol despite COVID-19 restrictions

A sign written in Japanese that reads "You can drink" is seen in front of an eatery in Osaka's Naniwa Ward on May 7, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Onishi)

OSAKA -- As many as 296 among some 48,700 eateries in Osaka Prefecture had been found serving alcohol as of May 4 in defiance of a national government request not to do so under the coronavirus state of emergency, leading to complaints from bars temporarily closing their businesses over unfairness.

    After the Japanese government decided to expand and extend the third coronavirus state of emergency, restaurants and bars have been asked not to serve alcohol. However, various establishments in some downtown areas in the western Japan prefecture are attracting customers by ignoring the request and serving alcohol.

    On the evening of May 6, Mainichi Shimbun reporters walked around the Shinsekai downtown district in Osaka's Naniwa Ward, where there are rows of restaurants serving kushikatsu deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables and izakaya bars. They found about five eateries open, many of which were loud with drunk customers, while most other businesses were closed.

    A sign written in Japanese that reads "We serve cold draft beer" is seen in front of an eatery in Osaka's Naniwa Ward on May 7, 2021. (Mainichi/Tatsuya Onishi)

    Notes on pieces of paper reading, "We serve cold draft beer" and "You can drink," were boldly posted on the front of bars. At one izakaya bar half filled with young people, a 20-year-old male university student who lives in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, was drinking with four friends. He commented, "After all, I want to drink at a bar. As customers are gathering at bars that are open, I doubt the government's request will have any effect." One male employee at the bar said: "I don't think the number of infections will change much because we are serving alcohol. We are just doing our job, and the real problem is the coronavirus."

    Though eateries are requested to close by 8 p.m. even if they do not serve alcohol, there were multiple bars that were open even after that time, and customers could be seen drinking until late at night.

    A 61-year-old manager at a nearby kushikatsu restaurant that has been temporarily closed was angry about the situation, saying: "Even if we open our business and don't serve alcohol, we can't try to compete with ones that are serving alcohol. In such a situation, obeying the request seems ridiculous." The restaurant has been closed since April 25, on the day the third state of emergency was declared. The manager said, "Why doesn't the government clamp down on these places? Many business owners complying with the request are angry." While obviously not happy about the extension of the state of emergency, he added, "It can't be helped because people's lives are more important."

    The Osaka Prefectural Government has inspected some 48,700 eateries in the prefecture since April, and 296 of those were apparently serving alcohol as of May 4, ignoring the request. The government will send written notices and give orders to such businesses to comply with the request, and those that don't could face a fine of up to 300,000 yen (about $2,760).

    An official at the prefectural government said: "Most businesses are cooperating and although we are placing a burden on them, we will continue to make such requests."

    (Japanese original by Yusuke Kori and Yukina Furukawa, Osaka City News Department)

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