Japan on Thursday will approve ending a monthslong state of emergency in Tokyo set up to curb the spread of the coronavirus, despite concerns of a resurgence ahead of the spring party season and next week's Olympic torch relay.
Experts on a government-commissioned panel moved to end the emergency this coming Sunday, underscoring the government’s eagerness to minimize burdens on businesses and keep the economy going. However, some experts warned that although Tokyo has managed to bring down the rate of new infections, the decline has levelled off and could rebound.
Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures have been under emergency measures since Jan. 7, mainly requests for restaurants and bars to close at 8 p.m. and take preventive measures, as well as asking companies and employees to do more remote work. Similar emergency measures were lifted in six urban areas late last month.
Japan has managed to keep virus cases and deaths relatively low without enforcing a hard lockdown, with deaths related to COVID-19 at about 8,700 people.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of pandemic measures, said indicators such as daily new cases and hospital bed occupancy rates have come down to levels that allow the emergency to be lifted in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures. He said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga would make a formal announcement later Thursday.
“We will be lifting the measure while still keeping our guard high," Nishimura told reporters.
Shigeru Omi, a doctor on a government panel of coronavirus experts, said cautionary measures after the end of the emergency will be crucial.
"We must prevent a rebound of infections. We must avoid putting strains on the medical and public health systems like before,” Omi said.
Since last year, the Japanese economy has been slammed by a drop in consumption, tourism, exports and manufacturing.
The decision to lift the measure comes just days before the nationwide Olympic torch relay begins in the northeastern Fukushima prefecture on March 25.
New cases in the Japanese capital rose to 409 on Wednesday, the highest in a month and up from 300 the day before. As of Wednesday, Japan had 451,186 cases and about 8,717 deaths nationwide, the Health Ministry said.
Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi