The Japanese government was set to end its nationwide state of emergency by lifting the order for Tokyo, its surrounding areas and Hokkaido on Monday, allowing more parts of the economy to re-open as new coronavirus cases tail off.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the government’s advisory panel had approved the plan, setting off a process to lift the measure later Monday for the areas still under the decree, a week ahead of schedule.
“There is no longer a need for a state of emergency in any part of the country,” Nishimura said at the opening of the panel’s meeting. He added afterward that the government would seek to guard against the infection while re-opening the economy.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to give a news conference on the government’s virus policy at 6 p.m.
Tokyo 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 region — the worst-hit by the virus — was the final and largest site of infection.
Tokyo, 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 ($1.7 trillion), which in global terms would make it the 11th largest economy on the planet.
While a European-style lock down isn’t legally possible in Japan, 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.
While Japan has suffered far fewer coronavirus infections and deaths than any of its Group of Seven peers, Abe’s handling of the outbreak has reinforced concerns that his government has grown complacent after seven years in power. He has been criticized for delaying an emergency declaration when local cases began to surge and for being slow to close Japan’s borders to Chinese visitors.