Fukuoka Prefecture plans to ask the government to lift the COVID-19 state of emergency ahead of the scheduled end date on March 7, sources said Wednesday.
The prefectural government had been saying it would make the request if the average number of new cases confirmed in a week dropped below 180 for seven days in a row and the percentage of hospital beds occupied dipped below 50%.
The prefecture has met the first criterion since Feb. 8, and the occupation rate of hospital beds, which had topped 70% at one time, declined to 49.6% on Monday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with members of his Cabinet, including health minister Norihisa Tamura and Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the government’s pandemic response, on Wednesday to discuss whether to lift the state of emergency for parts of Japan that have seen improvements in their situation.
Following the meeting, Suga told reporters he would decide on Friday whether to lift the state of emergency in such areas after hearing from experts on the appropriate course of action.
Of the 10 prefectures currently under the state of emergency, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama are expected to remain under the state of emergency as their situation has not sufficiently improved.
The capital saw 213 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, with the number of infections to date topping 110,000 on Tuesday including 1,285 deaths.
But Aichi, Gifu, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka could be removed from the list this weekend as infections have declined and hospitals have become less strained.
The governors of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo on Tuesday made a joint request to Nishimura for their prefectures to be taken off the list. Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura also made a similar request, while Gifu Gov. Hajime Furuta has indicated the state of emergency should be lifted in his prefecture at the same time as Aichi.
If the government opts to move forward with lifting the declaration early for the six prefectures, it will consult with a panel of experts on Friday before finalizing the decision at a COVID-19 task force meeting, according to people with knowledge of the plans.
Suga may also announce at the meeting his intention to lift the state of emergency for Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures on March 7 as scheduled.
Since Suga declared the state of emergency on Jan. 7, people have been urged to refrain from unnecessarily leaving their homes, while restaurants and bars are being asked to close by 8 p.m. Businesses are encouraged to adopt remote work while attendances at large events such as concerts and sports games have been capped at 5,000.
While the measures are more lax than last spring’s state of emergency, which saw schools close nationwide and many businesses temporarily shuttered, some government officials are wary of restricting economic activity for too long. Meanwhile, others are worried that lifting the declaration too soon could lead to a resurgence in infections.
Nishimura told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday the government would make a decision based on the advice of experts while making sure to prevent the coronavirus from spreading again in the coming months.
In order to exit the state of emergency, a prefecture must see its situation improve 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.
Suga initially declared a state of emergency for one month to Feb. 7 for the Tokyo metropolitan area before expanding it to a total of 11 prefectures. The declaration was later extended to March 7 except for Tochigi.
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