Osaka/Tokyo – The coronavirus state of emergency was lifted in six prefectures outside the Tokyo region on Monday amid signs of an improvement in the infection situation, as concerns about a possible resurgence of COVID-19 cases linger.
The state of emergency was lifted in Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka prefectures a week earlier than the planned March 7 expiry date, after the six met conditions for an early exit.
The four remaining prefectures — Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa, and Saitama — will await further signs of improvement.
To exit the emergency, the situation in a prefecture must improve from Stage 4, the worst level on the government’s scale based on six key indicators, including the rate of change in new cases compared with the previous week and the availability of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
The six prefectures will continue to request that restaurants and bars shorten their opening hours, but they will be allowed to close an hour later at 9 p.m.
The Osaka Prefectural Government narrowed the area covered by its early closure request from the whole of the prefecture to the city of Osaka. Neighboring Kyoto will take a similar step starting March 8, while Aichi, Gifu, Hyogo and Fukuoka are maintaining their prefecture-wide requests.
During the state of emergency, store operators that agreed to close by 8 p.m. received benefits of ¥60,000 per day. After the end of the emergency, operators will receive ¥40,000 in daily benefits, in principle, if they agree to close by 9 p.m. and ¥20,000 if they stay open after 9 p.m. but close earlier than usual.
The local governments will be given discretion in deciding the amount of benefits in accordance with the scale of sales at each restaurant and bar.
Some residents in the six prefectures where the state of emergency was lifted said not much will change even after the end of the emergency.
“We’ve put up (with the pandemic) for a year now, so nothing will change,” said a 27-year-old woman in the city of Gifu. “I’m used to wearing masks, I just have to protect myself,” she said.
In a business district in Osaka, a 46-year-old man working for a real estate company said he has not dined with people other than his family for a year. “The way of life will not change even after the emergency ended,” he said.
Meanwhile, a 28-year-old office worker in the city of Fukuoka said he will go out for drinks with with his colleagues now that the emergency has been lifted. “We didn’t go out when the emergency was in place. I’m looking forward to it.”
The partial lifting of the state of emergency comes as the central government is seeking to revive the economy, hit by plummeting household spending and the absence of foreign tourists.
A government advisory panel on the pandemic has pointed out that the number of older COVID-19 patients with severe symptoms remains high.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga initially declared a state of emergency for the Tokyo metropolitan area for one month to Feb. 7, before expanding it to a total of 11 prefectures. The declaration was later extended to March 7, with Tochigi removed from the list of prefectures covered.
The government will hold a meeting of its coronavirus task force, possibly on Friday, to determine whether the state of emergency can be entirely lifted on March 7.
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