A health ministry advisory panel said Wednesday that new COVID-19 cases in 10 hard-hit prefectures under a coronavirus state of emergency are declining at a slower pace, and may even stop falling.

But the panel said hospital bed occupancy rates for COVID-19 patients in the prefectures are on a downtrend and that burdens on the medical system are easing.

Of the 10, Chiba Prefecture requires attention as it is beginning to show signs of new cases starting to turn higher.

The government is considering lifting the emergency, which expires on March 7, in six prefectures outside the Tokyo metropolitan area at the end of this month.

The panel also said hospital bed occupancy rates remain high in the metropolitan area.

“Measures need to be taken to prevent new cases from rebounding if the emergency is lifted,” said the panel’s chief, Takaji Wakita, head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

In Tokyo, the number of new cases stood at 16.00 per 100,000 people in the week ended on Monday. The figure meets the criteria for Stage 3, the second-worst level on the country’s pandemic alert scale, defined as “15 or more.” Stage 3 is viewed as low enough for the government to lift the emergency.

In the other nine prefectures, the figures fell to levels from three to 15.00, meeting the criteria for Stage 2, the third-worst level.

The effective reproduction number, or the average number of people one person infects, stood at 0.79 in the 10 prefectures as of Feb. 8. Staying below 1.0 means that the coronavirus is no longer spreading.

With foot traffic at night starting to increase, however, the panel said that it is important to continue taking steps to reduce infections even after the lifting of the emergency, and also to brace for a new wave of infections.

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