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Business trends

Japan to let taxis deliver food nationwide in pandemic response

Government to make special measures permanent as needs remain and benefits seen

Taxi operator Takara Kotsu began food delivery service in April in the city of Nagoya as the Japanese government allowed taxis to transport goods in an exceptional easing of regulations amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Photo courtesy of Takara Kotsu)

TOKYO -- Japan will lift restrictions nationwide on food and drink delivery by taxi in October, Nikkei has learned, essentially making permanent what has been a temporary measure implemented as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, the government relaxed current rules that only allow taxis to carry passengers as special countermeasure to fight the spread of COVID-19. But it turned out that many people welcome the idea of using taxis for food delivery as they increasingly stay home or work from their residences as part of social distancing.

The government took several temporary measures in other areas as well, such as telemedicine, as part of virus countermeasures and discovered that such loosening of restrictions has led to new business opportunities and increased convenience for consumers. The new government that follows the current administration of outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to consider making the new rules effective permanently.

The special measures for taxi use were aimed at supporting the industry that has taken a hit amid the pandemic and also cover a personnel shortage in food delivery services. The government had been allowing taxis to transport cargo only in rural areas, but they will be able to deliver food and drink nationwide.

As of early September, 1,739 taxi companies operating a total of 54,009 vehicles have obtained such delivery permission from the government. As many taxi companies sought the benefit, the government had extended the deadline for the special measure to the end of September.

From October, the government will give taxi operators such permission for up to two years and allow for extension if desired. Taxi operators are required to load food and drink in the trunk of their vehicle, with delivery rates determined through negotiations between the taxi company and individual establishments.

People are enjoying the resulting convenience from the relaxing of restrictions in other areas as well.

The Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in April temporarily lifted restrictions on telemedicine, enabling patients to access an initial medical examination and treatment online or via phone. Patients are also able to have medicine delivered to their residences.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, meanwhile, has allowed restaurants to set tables and chairs on sidewalks until the end of November. In urban areas, food delivery services such as Demae-can and Uber Eats have become more common.

However, few delivery services are available in rural areas. The government, therefore, recognizes that there is more demand for delivery in such areas and sees taxis as a way to fill the gap.

The ministry will soon issue a notice on the new system. After the restriction is lifted, it will monitor developments to see if any problems arise and will also closely examine how the system is actually being used.

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