• JIJI, KYODO

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The COVID-19 situation in Japan is getting better, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Saturday in Washington, ahead of his government's looming decision over whether to lift the ongoing state of emergency.

"The situation has certainly been getting better," Suga told reporters accompanying him on a visit to Washington, adding that the government would "carry out an analysis again" early this week and make a decision "by listening to experts' opinions."

The state of emergency, in place for Tokyo and 18 others prefectures, is scheduled to conclude at the end of the month. The government is discussing fully removing the emergency and is aiming to reach a conclusion on Tuesday after examining the current state of the country's medical system and other factors.

Meanwhile, the health ministry has begun reviewing the condition of the nation's health care system in preparation for a possible sixth wave of coronavirus infections, following numerous cases of people dying at home during the previous resurgence.

In addition to asking existing medical institutions to secure sufficient hospital beds, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare also plans to increase the number of temporary medical facilities while also strengthening the coordination of personnel, according to officials.

Nationwide daily infections peaked at around 25,800 on Aug. 20 during the fifth wave. While prefectures had planned for numbers to double that of the third wave, some areas saw more than triple the number of infections.

In communications with local governments on Sept. 14 on establishing a medium- to long-term approach for the medical system to treat COVID-19 patients, the ministry stressed the importance of maintaining a balance with the treatment for other illnesses.

Infections have been increasing even in countries that rolled out their vaccination programs earlier than Japan, so a resurgence should be expected moving forward, it said.

The government additionally outlined plans to strengthen monitoring and emergency hospital admission of patients recuperating at home, and requested a system be created in advance to coordinate and train personnel.

It also asked local governments to consider utilizing provisions under a revised infectious disease law, which allows the authorities to release the names of hospitals that do not have a valid reason for noncompliance.

Suga, speaking on the sidelines of the "Quad" summit in Washington, also addressed the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's leadership election scheduled for Wednesday, noting that it is "desirable" for candidates to put forward policies and engage in debates. He was responding to a question about a proposal by regulatory reform minister Taro Kono, one of the four contenders in the election, to create a minimum guaranteed pension financed entirely by tax revenue.

Suga, who will step down without seeking re-election as LDP president, has clarified his support for Kono in the leadership poll. The outgoing prime minister also said he has no intention of accepting any request from the next leader to serve as a Cabinet minister.

Regarding the fresh momentum behind the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) free trade agreement — with both China and Taiwan applying to join — Suga said Japan's basic position is that a U.S. decision to rejoin the framework is important. The United States abandoned the deal in 2017 and Japan currently serves as the de facto leader of the 11-nation group.

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