The Japanese government is poised to end its coronavirus state of emergency in five prefectures on Friday, a week earlier than scheduled, after a dramatic fall in new cases across the country.
Emergency measures, including requests for bars and restaurants to close at 8 pm, are expected to be lifted in Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi and Gifu prefectures, the Kyodo news agency cited government sources as saying. But they will remain in place in Tokyo and the neighbouring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba.
Officials will make a decision on Fukuoka’s possible exit from the state of emergency after reviewing the availability of hospital beds in the south-western prefecture, Kyodo said.
The state of emergency – Japan’s second since the start of the pandemic – began in 11 of the country’s 47 prefectures on 7 January and was extended for another month until 7 March. Tochigi, north of Tokyo, has already been withdrawn.
While Japanese authorities do not have the legal powers to impose restrictions on businesses or individuals, requests to shorten opening hours and avoid non-essential outings appear to be paying off. Companies have been encouraged to adopt remote working, and attendance at large events such as concerts and sports fixtures has been capped at 5,000.
Japan recorded 1,065 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, according to public broadcaster NHK, well below the daily peak of almost 8,000 on 8 January. Seventy-four deaths were attributed to the virus on the same day, down from a high of 121 in early February.
The government is hoping to lift the state of emergency in the remaining four prefectures as planned on 7 March, NHK added.
Health experts said the lifting of most restrictions should not be taken as a sign that life is returning to normal. “There is a danger it could send the wrong message that everything is all right now,” Toshio Nakagawa, head of the Japan Medical Association, said on Thursday.