Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Thursday the country’s state of emergency will be lifted on Sunday in all but Okinawa Prefecture, as cases continue to decline nationwide and the fourth wave of the pandemic appears to have crested weeks ago.
Quasi-emergency measures, however, will remain in place in seven of the nine prefectures that are seeing the emergency end Sunday, including Tokyo and Osaka.
The state of emergency in Okinawa — where new cases are declining, albeit not as quickly as in the rest of the nation — and quasi-emergency measures in the seven prefectures coming out of the state of emergency will both be in place until July 11.
Quasi-emergency measures will not be employed in Okayama and Hiroshima after the state of emergency ends in those two prefectures on Sunday.
“The burden on the health care system is beginning to lessen, but foot traffic is increasing and the growing presence of variants make it crucial that we prevent a rebound,” Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister leading the country’s coronavirus response, said Thursday.
The virus countermeasures will be eased less than five weeks before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23.
It’s not clear what virus measures will be in place during the games, but infectious disease experts are concerned that lifting countermeasures will cause a resurgence of COVID-19 leading up to the opening ceremony and prompt another state of emergency in Tokyo.
“Moving forward, if and when it becomes necessary, states of emergency and quasi-emergency measures will be used flexibly to counter an inevitable rebound and prevent it from turning into a large outbreak,” Nishimura told reporters.
On Wednesday, Japan reported 1,710 cases nationwide, a sharp decline from the apparent peak of the fourth wave in May, when the country logged more than 7,000 cases in a day on multiple occasions.
In Tokyo, Osaka, Hokkaido, Aichi, Hyogo, Kyoto and Fukuoka — where quasi-emergency measures will take effect after the weekend — dining establishments will still be asked to close by 8 p.m. but will be able to serve alcohol until 7 p.m. so long as they are complying with virus precautions.
While quasi-emergency measures, currently active in five prefectures, will be lifted on Sunday in Mie and Gifu, they will be extended until July 11 in Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama.
As the nation looks to reopen following a fourth wave of the pandemic, past precedent dictates that a rebound in cases is inevitable.
Weeks after the central government began to incrementally lift the country’s second state of emergency in March, an uptick in new cases quickly formed into a nationwide surge that forced officials to enact quasi-emergency measures in hot spots and then another state of emergency.
The nation’s third state of emergency, which was first declared in four prefectures in late April, was subsequently expanded and extended three times.
Initially, department stores, shopping centers, movie theaters and other large commercial facilities in areas under a state of emergency had been asked to close completely, but that request was relaxed before the end of the emergency.
The law makes it difficult — if not impossible — to compel residents to stay indoors indefinitely. Certain businesses can incur fines for failing to comply with measures during a state of emergency, but a number of struggling restaurants and bars have chosen to ignore those requests and pay the fine.
Meanwhile, the country’s vaccine rollout continues to slowly but surely gain momentum.
As of Tuesday, about 15% of the population has been inoculated with at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Ourworld Data.
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