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Recent remarks by Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura faulting the central government over its pace in drafting specific guidelines for the lifting of business closure requests have sparked criticism from the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Osaka became the first prefecture to issue such guidance on Tuesday when it announced its own detailed plan for determining whether to relax or lift closure requests on local businesses.

“A clear exit strategy on how to lift the requests for closing businesses is needed. As the central government has not indicated anything, we decided on this ‘Osaka model,’” Yoshimura told reporters.

But Yoshimura’s choice of words has since been criticized by economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of overseeing the virus containment measures. He said that Yoshimura “seems to be misunderstanding, as it is at prefectural governments’ discretion whether to lift such requests” within their prefectures under the state of emergency.

“Thus, it is the Osaka government that holds the responsibility to explain” plans to its people, Nishimura said.

Yoshimura apologized to Nishimura on Twitter on Wednesday night, acknowledging that the governor has authority on such matters. But he also wrote that the Osaka government was making its business closure request based on the state of emergency declared by the central government, so if the Abe administration is extending the period of emergency, he thought the central government should also present an exit strategy.

Osaka Prefecture, which had recorded about 1,700 infection cases in total as of Thursday morning, intends to monitor three specific aspects of the situation over a seven-day period from Thursday to decide whether to resume more business activities.

The three factors are the number of new cases where the infection route is unknown, the rate at which polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests produce positive results and the percentage of available hospital beds occupied by seriously ill patients. If, as of May 14, there are fewer than 10 new cases a day on average where the infection route is uncertain, less than 7 percent of tests give positive results and under 60 percent of available beds are occupied by coronavirus patients, the prefecture will determine on May 15 whether to relax or entirely lift restrictions on some businesses.

While Osaka is so far the only prefecture to have set out specific numeric criteria for relaxing and lifting requests for businesses to remain closed, other prefectural governors are also facing increasing pressure to let businesses reopen before May 31 when the national emergency extension is set to expire.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura | KYODO
Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura | KYODO

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike mentioned during a recent news conference that the capital would soon draft its own exit strategy. Hokkaido, which has been hit with a second wave of infections, has asked businesses to remain closed until May 15. After that, the prefecture plans to evaluate whether it’s safe to reopen.

Kyoto and Gifu prefectures have only said that they would decide by the middle of the month whether to at least partially lift the request to close businesses. Fukushima, Gunma and Nara prefectures plan to maintain their requests for most businesses to remain closed until May 31. From May 11, Shiga residents will be asked not to commute to neighboring prefectures such as Kyoto. Hyogo Prefecture will continue to ask many businesses to remain closed until the end of the month, but Arima Onsen and some local hotels reopened Thursday.

Prefectures that have much lower infection numbers than Tokyo and Osaka are starting to ease restrictions.

Aomori, Akita and Iwate prefectures have said they would start relaxing or lifting requests for businesses to remain closed from Thursday.

Shimane, Tottori and Tokushima prefectures have not made requests for businesses to close comparable to those seen in other prefectures, although Shimane and Tottori did ask 130 pachinko parlors in both prefectures to shut their doors through the Golden Week period. They were reopened Thursday. Shimane has logged 24 infections, while Tokushima has five and Tottori three.

Information from Kyodo added

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