The Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Monday entered phase two of its three-part plan to progressively lift social distancing measures and voluntary business closures.
In phase two, shutdown requests for movie theaters, gyms, department stores and other entertainment venues with no history of cluster infections were lifted, and the limit for mass gatherings was capped at 100 people for indoor events and 200 for those held outside.
Gov. Yuriko Koike said the capital will proceed cautiously based on virus data gathered over two-week increments. However, given that barely a week has passed since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe completely lifted the state of emergency, some experts are questioning whether Tokyo is moving too fast.
Pressed for an explanation during her weekly news conference on Friday, Koike eventually pointed out that two weeks had passed since May 15, when the capital put forward an outline of its plan to ease coutermeasures and subsequently began to monitor and publicize seven criteria for the move.
“We’ve been monitoring data every day for months,” Koike said. “We’re watching the situation carefully and we believe the timing is right to take the next step.”
Koike officially announced the details of the city’s road map on May 22. Three days later the Tokyo area was released from the state of emergency to join the rest of the country.
Under the capital’s plan, social distancing measures and voluntary business closure requests will be peeled back in three phases to reopen society and reboot the economy while taking precautionary measures to prevent a second wave of infections.
Phase one kicked off on May 26, at which point closure requests for museums, libraries, schools and other cultural institutions were lifted and eateries were urged to close at 10 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. as previously instructed.
Koike said the capital will reference seven criteria in deciding if and when to lift further measures. These include new and untraceable cases, how those figures compare with the previous week, the number of hospitalized patients — including how many are experiencing severe symptoms — as well as the infection rate among tested individuals and the number of calls and consultations received by coronavirus hotlines.
In phase three, pachinko parlors, bars, arcades and other such facilities will be urged to reopen, restaurants will be allowed to stay open until midnight and public events will be limited to 1,000 people. Officials say phase three is unlikely to start until mid-June.
Experts have warned that reopening society abruptly or prematurely could lead to a second wave.
Koike’s road map deserves praise for laying out how the capital will progressively reopen, but the plan itself is shortsighted and should be stretched out over a longer period of time, said Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute of Public Health at King’s College London.
“There is a big, big risk of resurgence,” Shibuya said, adding that a temporary increase in new cases after Tokyo lifts virus countermeasures is “inevitable.”
Koike said she would consider reactivating countermeasures if Tokyo reported more than 50 cases in one day, untraceable infections accounted for more than half of new cases, or infections doubled in comparison to the preceding week.
But even if Koike restores voluntary business closure requests in Tokyo, it’s unlikely that a state of emergency will be declared for a second time in the capital or anywhere else in the country for the time being.
The government has no plan to declare an emergency again in Tokyo or Fukuoka, Yasutoshi Nishimura, economy minister and the Cabinet minister in charge of Japan’s response to the novel coronavirus, said on Sunday.
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