Japan cautiously enters year-end party season amid omicron concerns

Japan Times -- Dec 05
Japan is entering its end-of-year party season with most COVID-19 restrictions lifted based on low numbers of cases, but concerns about the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant are likely to keep the festive mood restrained once again.

Rising material costs, sparked by high crude oil prices, and a change in people’s attitudes toward after-work drinking and dining with colleagues has put an additional burden on restaurant and bar operators in Japan, which otherwise would be welcoming their busiest time of the year.

In Tokyo’s Shimbashi business district, some restaurants and bars are seeing customers gradually returning but voice concerns about the recent arrival of the new variant in Japan.

Omicron has put Japan and other countries on high alert due to the variant’s large number of mutations, which may make it highly transmissible and pose an increased risk of reinfection.

With concerns about a potential sixth wave of infections remaining strong, 70.4% of 8,174 firms that responded to a survey said they would not hold end-of-year or New Year parties regardless of whether a state of emergency or other COVID-19 measures are in place.

The rate is likely to be higher now because the survey was conducted by credit research company Tokyo Shoko Research before the first omicron case was confirmed in Japan on Nov. 30.

The rate, however, was down from 94.2% in a similar survey conducted in December last year, when the third wave of infections was in full swing.

Another factor restraining the full return to pre-pandemic levels of wining and dining is that a majority of Japanese no longer believe work-related get-togethers for drinking are necessary.