The Japanese government plans to completely lift the state of emergency over the novel coronavirus pandemic on Monday, before it expires on May 31, government sources said Sunday.
At a meeting of its coronavirus response task force on Monday, the government will decide to remove the emergency for Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, as well as the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido. The 42 other prefectures have already been removed from under the emergency declaration.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold a news conference on Monday to call on the public to balance efforts to prevent infections and the resumption of social and economic activities.
On Sunday, Abe, health minister Katsunobu Kato and economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura received a briefing on the infection situations in Tokyo and the other four prefectures and discussed how the government should respond.
On a television program, Kato said the infection situation has improved substantially, adding that if this situation continues, the government will make a final decision as early as Monday on whether to lift the emergency.
“The number of infections is decreasing day by day. That can be seen even in areas where the state of emergency is still in effect,” Kato said. “The situation of the outbreak is improving, and the pressure on the medical system is being relieved.”
Tokyo, however, reported 14 new coronavirus cases Sunday, the highest since May 16, after just two cases were confirmed on Saturday. The total for the past seven days is 50, below the threshold of 70, or 0.5 people per 100,000, which the government has outlined as being needed to lift the emergency.
Abe declared an emergency in the capital and some other areas from April 7, later expanding it nationwide. From mid-May he began lifting it in places where the rate of new infections subsided. The Tokyo metropolitan area — the worst-hit by the virus — was the final and largest site of infections.
The Tokyo area, with its surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, has a combined population of about 35 million people and an annual output of ¥182.2 trillion, which in global terms would make it the 11th largest economy on the planet.
While a European-style lockdown isn’t legally possible in Japan due to civil liberties enshrined in its postwar Constitution, the state of emergency enabled local governments to instruct businesses to close or operate for shortened hours, and to ask residents to stay at home.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has laid out guidelines for reopening the economy as people gradually resume activities kept on hold for almost seven weeks. Neighboring South Korea has already seen a major cluster spread among nightclub-goers after loosening restrictions. Meanwhile, Abe has vowed to work with regional governments to prepare for a second wave of infections that experts say is almost inevitable.