• Kyodo, Jiji

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The government has decided to allow the reopening of parks, museums, libraries and other public facilities in areas with high coronavirus counts and to ease its request for slashing social contact, a senior official said Sunday.

As part of efforts to deal with public fatigue from the nationwide state of emergency, economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said at a news conference the government will permit such facilities to reopen if sufficient measures to slow the virus’s spread are put in place.

The government will release guidelines on how to resume social activities on Monday, when it is expected to formally extend the state of emergency. A government source said Sunday that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will extend the declaration until May 31. Abe will hold a news conference on the matter at 6 p.m. Monday.

The plan will even apply to Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hokkaido, Fukuoka and eight other prefectures the government has singled out as needing stepped-up measures against the virus, said Nishimura, who is in charge of issues related to the emergency declaration.

When he met with the media, Nishimura said the government also is considering using the Regional Economy Vitalization Corporation of Japan, a public-private investment fund, to financially support troubled midsize firms in nonurban areas.

“About ¥1 trillion ($9.3 billion) has been prepared (by the fund) for the whole country. If necessary, we will also think about increasing this amount,” he said.

He also said the government is considering increasing the current subsidy of up to ¥8,330 ($78) per day being provided to companies for each employee taking days off due to the virus.

On a TV program, Nishimura said that any increase will be paid for all holidays taken since the subsidy program began early last month.

In addition, he said the government plans to disclose numerical targets for when to lift the state of emergency. Under the emergency status, people are being asked to stay home as much as possible and businesses are being asked to shut. There are no legal penalties for noncompliance.

Experts will make an interim assessment of the declaration’s effectiveness about two weeks after the extension, Nishimura said.

On Friday, a government panel recommended the nonbinding requests be kept in place for awhile because infections haven’t fallen sharply since the initial state of emergency was declared by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on April 7 for Tokyo, Osaka and five other prefectures. Abe took the declaration nationwide on April 16, urging the public to avoid closed spaces, crowded places and close contact.

The emergency was scheduled to end Wednesday, the last day of the Golden Week holidays.

In the meantime, government sources said Saturday the government is considering scaling back its call for an 80 percent reduction in interpersonal contact in some areas at the same time it extends the state of emergency.

The government plans to end the measure outside Tokyo, Osaka and 11 other prefectures specified as needing special caution, according to the sources.

In addtion, social distancing measures “will be relaxed gradually from next Thursday in areas other than the specified prefectures,” Nishimura said Saturday. “We want to create a framework that will allow businesses to make proper decisions.”

The revised policy is expected to call for maintaining the target of cutting interpersonal contact by 80 percent in the specified prefectures while relaxing stay-at-home and business-shutdown requests elsewhere in the country.

The government plans to continue to request the nationwide promotion of teleworking. In the specified prefectures, the government is expected to seek a 70 percent cut in the number of commuting workers.

In addition, people all over the country will continue to be asked to refrain from traveling across prefectural borders.

Nishimura also urged various sectors to take the initiative to create their own guidelines based on the government’s policies.

On Saturday, the Osaka Prefectural Government decided at a meeting of its coronavirus countermeasures task force to decide on whether it can ease requests for isolation and business suspensions based on the infection count as of May 15.

On Friday, Osaka Gov. Hirofumi said he intends to draft guidelines of his own to help businesses restart.

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