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The government’s decision Thursday to lift the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures sparked backlash from experts and drew skeptical responses from the general public.

“With the number of new cases ceasing to fall, many must be thinking ‘why now?’ and ‘this will backfire,'” said Ryosuke Nishida, associate professor of sociology at the Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Nishida then called on the government to clarify the basis for the decision and present plans to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic. “Otherwise, distrust in the government will grow,” he stressed.

Harumi Arima, a political commentator, pointed out that ending the emergency in the capital and Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures on Sunday would be necessary to hold the postponed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in summer as currently planned.

“Even if the coronavirus situation changes little, the government wants to shift public attention to the Tokyo Games,” Arima said. “They must have found it a bad idea to hold the Olympic torch relay amid the state of emergency.”

The relay will start on March 25 in Fukushima Prefecture.

The decision also faced protests by medical professionals.

At Hanyu General Hospital in the Saitama city of Hanyu, the burden on staff members to care for COVID-19 patients remains high despite a decline in bed occupancy, due to prolonged hospitalization of severely ill patients in need of extensive care.

People walk in Tokyo's Kabukicho nightlife entertainment district on Wednesday. | KYODO
People walk in Tokyo’s Kabukicho nightlife entertainment district on Wednesday. | KYODO

“Staff members haven’t been able to rest sufficiently because of new duties such as dealing with coronavirus variants,” Toshiyuki Takahashi, deputy chief of the hospital, said. “The government needs to look at not only the bed occupancy rates but real situations surrounding medical workers.”

He also forecast that new cases “will quickly rebound” and people “will see no way out.”

In Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, many people expressed skepticism about the decision.

Hiroki Murai, manager of the Soreyuke Toriyaro izakaya pub in Kabukicho, the biggest nightlife district in the country, questioned the government’s move to relax requests for shortening operating hours, urging stores to close by 9 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.

“I’m grateful for it, but things don’t change much with just an hour,” he said.

A female high school student who came to Shinjuku for shopping said that she felt the extension to the state of emergency, initially slated to end in early February, “had no meaning.”

However, she expressed concerns over the likelihood of a rebound in new cases, saying, “I don’t want my school closed again.”

A care worker in her 40s also expressed worry about a possible fourth wave of infections from the lifting.

“It should have been extended to around April, after the number of new cases drops significantly,” she said.

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