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Economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said Sunday that the government will consider lifting its state of emergency over the novel coronavirus after confirming that the strain on hospital bed capacity in areas under the declaration has eased substantially.

The state of emergency, issued in January, now covers Tokyo and neighboring Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures, along with Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka. It is currently slated to run until March 7, one month longer than initially planned.

Nishimura, who is in charge of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis and was speaking on a television program, denied that the 10 prefectures will be placed under a lesser stage of emergency, which was created under the revised special coronavirus law, immediately after the state of emergency is lifted. Eating and drinking establishments would continue to be asked to shorten operating hours under such a stage, in which intensive infection prevention measures are implemented.

“We want to prepare an environment in which hospital beds for coronavirus patients are secured stably under the state of emergency,” rather than taking intensive measures to prevent a spread of the virus in the 10 prefectures under the lesser emergency stage, he said.

“We need to considerably reduce the burden on medical institutions” ahead of the upcoming start of coronavirus vaccinations, Nishimura said.

Meanwhile, Shigeru Omi, head of a government panel of experts on the epidemic, expressed caution over an apparent slowdown in the pace of decrease in new infection cases.

In order to prevent the virus from spreading, “it’s very important to avoid activities such as holding parties and making graduation trips toward the end of the current fiscal year next month,” said Omi, also chief of the government-affiliated Japan Community Health Care Organization.

On the lifting of the state of emergency, Omi said that what matters is reducing the burden on medical institutions and public health offices.

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