Japan to lift Tokyo area state of emergency as planned on Sunday

TOKYO (REUTERS) – The Japanese government’s advisory panel on coronavirus countermeasures on Thursday (March 18) approved a plan to let the state of emergency expire in the Tokyo area as scheduled on March 21, Economy Minister Yasuhisa Nishimura said. 

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga had flagged the plan late on Wednesday, saying the availability of hospital beds had improved in Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures.

“There was no objection to the plan,” Mr Nishimura, who also heads Japan’s coronavirus response, said after a meeting with the advisory panel.

He added, however, that experts noted that infections had been creeping up in recent days, and that a resurgence was bound to occur.

While the number of new Covid-19 cases has plunged from a peak in early January, the daily tally for Tokyo remains far from Governor Yuriko Koike’s target of reducing the seven-day average to 70 per cent or lower from the preceding week. 

On Wednesday, the capital reported 409 cases, compared with a peak of 2,520 on Jan 7, but the highest since mid-February. 

“The important thing is to make sure the rebound is not a big one – to keep the waves small,” Mr Nishimura said. “We ask our citizens to continue to take the basic precautions to prevent the spread of infections.”

The government’s task force will meet later on Thursday to finalise the plan, followed by a news conference by Prime Minister Suga at 7pm (1000 GMT).

Tokyo, the capital, and neighbouring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures have remained under state of emergency restrictions since early January, with curbs asking restaurants and bars to close by 8pm and companies to allow more telecommuting.

While under pressure to bring Covid-19 under control ahead of the Tokyo Olympics this summer, the government is eager to jumpstart economic activity in the Tokyo area, whose 36 million residents account for 30 per cent of Japan’s population.

After the lifting of the emergency, the four prefectures will continue to ask eateries to close by 9pm, at least until the end of March, to reduce the chance of a resurgence in infections, Kanagawa Governor Yuji Kuroiwa said on Wednesday.

So far in Japan, roughly 449,000 people have tested positive and 8,715 have died from Covid-19 as of Wednesday.

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