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The government is considering lifting its latest state of emergency in three prefectures where new COVID-19 infections have dropped off substantially — Aichi and Gifu in central Japan, and Fukuoka in the southwest.

The government may decide on lifting the emergency at a meeting of its coronavirus task force on Friday, although some are cautious considering the high occupancy rates of hospital beds for coronavirus patients, informed sources said.

The government has extended the state of emergency, which was declared last month for 11 of the country’s 47 prefectures and was slated to run until Sunday, for one month to March 7 for 10 of the 11, while the measure was lifted for Tochigi Prefecture as initially scheduled.

During the process of deciding whether to extend the emergency, the government explored the possibility of lifting the measure for Aichi, Gifu and Fukuoka in addition to Tochigi. The 10 prefectures now under the state of emergency other than Aichi, Gifu and Fukuoka are Tokyo and neighboring Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, and Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo in western Japan.

At Monday’s meeting of senior members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that the daily number of positive coronavirus cases is falling and that the possibility of lifting the emergency before its new expiration date will be considered.

The government is closely monitoring new infection numbers and medical capacity, and will consider the possible partial lifting while listening to the opinions of experts, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference the same day.

If the emergency is lifted for Aichi, Gifu and Fukuoka prefectures, they will be placed under a new pre-emergency stage to be introduced under the revised special measures law against the coronavirus, which is set to take effect Saturday.

Eating and drinking establishments in the three prefectures will continue to be asked to shorten operating hours under the pre-emergency stage, in which intensive infection prevention measures are implemented.

In the three prefectures, new infection cases have recently been below the criteria for Stage 3, the second-worst level on the country’s alert scale for the novel coronavirus.

Still, hospital bed capacity in Aichi and Fukuoka has been strained enough to keep the two prefectures categorized at Stage 4, which is believed to warrant a state of emergency. This is because the number of seriously ill patients, mainly elderly people, is rising, and treatment is taking time as a result, critics say.

Some within the government warned that new infection cases may start to increase again within two weeks if people start to lower their guard, posing a threat of the medical system collapsing.

The government plans to closely look into the infection situations and bed occupancy rates at a coronavirus task force meeting on Tuesday and a health ministry meeting of experts later this week.

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