The Tokyo Metropolitan Government decided to deactivate its virus alert and move to the third and final stage of its plan to reboot businesses and reopen society on Thursday.
Phase three of the city’s coronavirus road map entails lifting business closure requests for entertainment and recreational facilities. These include karaoke establishments, bars, pachinko parlors, arcades and amusements parks, among others. Restaurants and bars will be invited to stay open until midnight, and public events will be limited to a thousand people.
“In this third and final stage, nearly all business closure requests in Tokyo will have been lifted,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Thursday during a meeting of the city’s coronavirus task force. “It will be a long time until treatment or vaccination is available, so we must learn to live with the coronavirus and maintain the necessary precautions to prevent a second wave.”
The governor said experts who reviewed recent monitoring data on Tokyo’s COVID-19 cases advised the Tokyo government that it is reasonable to lift the Tokyo Alert, an alarm mechanism meant to warn residents of an uptick in new cases of the coronavirus, and move to phase three. The alert was deactivated on Thursday and Tokyo will enter phase three from Friday.
Koike said the metropolitan government would gradually lift virus countermeasures if the weekly average of daily cases stayed under 20, untraceable cases accounted for less than half of those infections and new cases were less than the week prior.
On Thursday, Tokyo confirmed 22 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Thursday, Tokyo reported a weekly average of 17.9 new cases, about 48 percent of which were untraceable, and around 2 percent fewer cases than the previous week.
On June 2, Koike activated for the first time the Tokyo Alert, after the city reported 34 new cases of the novel coronavirus on that day. Since then, while figures have fluctuated, new cases seem to have been kept low enough for the metropolitan government to proceed with its plan.
The threat of a second wave of the novel coronavirus still looms large as cities throughout Japan and the rest of the world look to reopen society.
Koike said she would consider reissuing business closure requests if average new cases exceeded 50, more than half were untraceable or new infections doubled in a week.
City officials said a significant portion of recent new cases in Tokyo can be traced back to nightlife destinations in Shinjuku Ward. Last week, the city dispatched staff to the area to urge residents to take precautions, practice social distancing and avoid establishments with enclosed spaces and poor air circulation.
Upon issuing the Tokyo Alert, Koike called on residents through live national television to exercise further caution and remain vigilant. At the same time, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building in Shinjuku Ward and the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo Bay were lit red to reflect the urgency of the governor’s warning.
Some experts have not only questioned the reach and impact of the alert system, but have also raised concerns that Tokyo may be reopening society too quickly.
The inner workings of the city’s plan were revealed May 22, just three days before Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the declaration of a state of emergency in all remaining prefectures.
Tokyo entered phase two of its plan a week after it was released from the declaration. Less than two weeks have passed since then.
Museums, libraries and other cultural institutions were urged to reopen in phase one, while movie theaters, gyms and other entertainment venues with no history of cluster infections joined the list in phase two.
Closure requests for a number of businesses, however, will remain in place after the city enters phase three. These include bars that see close contact between staff and customers, such as host clubs and hostess bars, and live music venues, among others.
The capital has reported more than 5,400 infections and 311 deaths as of Wednesday. Nationwide, more than 17,900 cases and over 935 deaths have been reported, with 38 new cases reported Wednesday.