Japan is facing its "most critical time" if the state of emergency imposed over the coronavirus epidemic is to be lifted as soon as possible, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said late Wednesday as he called for a further reduction in person-to-person contact.

Abe stressed the need for people to refrain from going to their hometowns to see their parents and family members during the Golden Week holidays from late April to early May and recommended virtual family reunions instead.

"To bring an end to this state of emergency as soon as possible, now is the most critical time for us," Abe said at a meeting of a government task force on the coronavirus response.