Japan is considering lifting the state of emergency declared in six prefectures over the coronavirus pandemic ahead of its scheduled end date on March 7, government sources said Tuesday.
The declaration is likely to be lifted by this weekend in the six prefectures of Aichi, Gifu, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka due to sufficient improvement in their situations.
Tokyo and its three nearby prefectures, however, are set to remain under the virus emergency until the original end date as their situation has not substantially improved.
Earlier in the day, the governors of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo had made a joint request to economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is leading the country's response to the pandemic, citing improvements in the number of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients and the slowing pace of infections.
Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura also made a similar request, while Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta indicated that the declaration would ideally be lifted in his prefecture at the same time as Aichi.
The four governors of Tokyo, which remains the hardest-hit among Japan's 47 prefectures, and the three surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa agreed in a teleconference not to request the lifting of the declaration ahead of schedule.
The metropolitan area has been seeing a slowdown in the decline of coronavirus cases. But Chiba and Kanagawa are now seeing a rise in new daily COVID-19 cases.
Suga is expected to make a decision on the early lifting for the six prefectures at a meeting Wednesday of relevant ministers including Nishimura and health minister Norihisa Tamura based on the latest expert analysis.
If they decide to move forward with lifting the declaration early, they will consult with a panel of health experts on Friday before finalizing the decision at a government taskforce meeting, the sources said.
Suga may also announce at the taskforce meeting his intention to lift the emergency for Tokyo and its three nearby prefectures on March 7 as scheduled.
As a prerequisite for lifting the virus emergency, the situation must have improved from Stage 4, the worst level on the government's four-point scale.
The stages are based on six key indicators, including the weekly number of infections per 100,000 people and the percentage of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients currently available.
As of Sunday, five of the six prefectures have improved to Stage 3 or better in all six metrics. The percentage of hospital beds occupied remains high only in Fukuoka.
While a top government official has said that there should be no reason to oppose lifting the emergency declaration based on the indicators, some Cabinet members are wary of people becoming complacent once it is lifted.
The state of emergency, Japan's second over the pandemic, was initially declared on Jan. 7 for one month, covering Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures.
On Jan. 13, it was expanded to seven other prefectures including the three western areas and later extended through March 7 for 10 of the 11 prefectures.
Under the virus emergency, people are asked to refrain from unnecessary outings and restaurants and bars to close early.
Kyoto Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki has said that even if the state of emergency is lifted, the prefecture would continue to ask restaurants and bars to shorten business hours to prevent a resurgence of infections.
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