Japan is set to lift a state of emergency in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo later this week as the number of new coronavirus infections in each of the three prefectures has remained low, while the emergency declaration will be kept intact for the Tokyo area and Hokkaido, government officials said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make a final decision on Thursday after hearing from health experts, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The government has assessed that the three Kansai prefectures have also secured enough hospital beds and testing capacity.
Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Hokkaido will remain under the state of emergency to monitor the situation, according to the officials.
The prime minister lifted the state of emergency for 39 of the 47 prefectures last week and said it would be possible to do the same in the rest of the nation even before its planned expiry on May 31, provided certain criteria are met.
The eight remaining prefectures cover nearly half of the country’s population.
They have been divided into three groups based on geography — the metropolitan area encompassing Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, the Kansai region of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, and Hokkaido.
The government will decide whether to lift the emergency by group, the officials said.
“Compared with when the emergency was declared, the numbers of new patients in the eight prefectures have fallen significantly,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.
The government plans to focus on three criteria to decide whether to end the emergency, under which people have been asked to avoid nonessential outings and businesses that require close person-to-person interactions have been asked to temporarily close.
The criteria include the number of new cases, capacity to provide medical services and the efficiency of monitoring systems, such as polymerase chain reaction testing capacity, according to the sources.
One of the numerical targets proposed by a government panel of experts for lifting the emergency in the remaining prefectures is whether infections have fallen below 0.5 new cases per 100,000 people over the previous week.
For Tokyo, with a population of roughly 14 million, that would mean that the number of people infected with the virus would have to be fewer than 70 in one week.
The three Kansai prefectures had all cleared the numerical target as of Monday, with a senior government official saying, “They will be fine (to lift the state of emergency) if things remain as they are.”
The figures for Hokkaido, Tokyo and Kanagawa are 0.87, 0.77 and 1.07, respectively.
“It’s still difficult for Hokkaido. I believe the metropolitan area will aim to lift the emergency at the end of the month,” a source close to Abe said. “But there’s no plan to lift Saitama and Chiba earlier (than Tokyo and Kanagawa).”
The 0.5 cases per 100,000 people criterion is significantly more stringent compared to some of the standards being used overseas. Germany has set that bar at 50, while New York is requiring an average of less than two over the three previous days.
The health ministry on Tuesday said 17,000 hospital beds have been secured for potential COVID-19 patients in Japan.