Japan lifts state of emergency in Tokyo; global cases near 5.5M

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An employee wears a face shield and face masks at the Matsuya Ginza department store, which partially reopened Monday in Tokyo. Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo
Pedestrians walk down the Sugamo Jizo Dori shopping street in Tokyo on April 11. On Monday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the state of emergency in the capital city. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

May 25 (UPI) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday lifted a state of emergency in Tokyo as the rate of new cases declined.

The prime minister also declared an end to the emergency in Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, as well as Hokkaido, about a week earlier than expected. He declared the emergency in Tokyo on April 16 in response to climbing coronavirus cases and deaths.

Japan, which has a population of 126 million, has had 16,500 confirmed cases and 820 deaths as of Monday morning, according to John Hopkins University's global tracker.

At its peak, Japan was reporting about 1,000 confirmed new cases in a day, but that number has dwindled.

"Recently, new infection cases have fallen below 50 for the entire nation," Abe said, "and what was once nearly 10,000 hospitalized cases -- that has now fallen below 2,000.

"The lifting of the emergency does not mean the virus is gone or infections are down to zero. Our battle against the virus will continue."

The announcement came as the global number of confirmed cases neared 5.5. million Monday. There have been at least 345,400 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the limit on gatherings will be expanded to 100 people by the week's end.

"We want to get our economy moving quickly without losing the gains we have made to date," she said during a news conference.

The archipelago nation has been one of the fastest to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic through issuing strict lockdown measures in mid-March, which have since been slowly eased.

Currently at level 2, the second-lowest of its four-level lockdown measure, New Zealand has permitted gatherings of up to 10 people, but staring Friday that limit will be upped to 100, Ardern said.

Ardern said the government will regularly adjust restrictions to allow for more activity when medical advice permits it. New Zealand moved to level 2 on May 14.

The New Zealand Ministry of Health has reported 1,154 cases of COVID-19 and 21 deaths with 15 new cases this month.

Ardern said its drop in cases despite easing of restrictions runs counter to what other countries have experienced and that is due to New Zealanders following the rules to maintain social distancing.

The expanded limit on gatherings, she said, will still prevent large concerts but more events can occur from noon Friday when the measure goes into effect.

"These changes are good news for business and for those who look to plan larger gatherings," she said. "It's another step in renormalizing life as we continue to stamp out the virus."

In neighboring Australia, schools in New South Wales and Queensland reopened Monday with their premiers encouraging people to continue to work from home if possible to relieve pressure on the transit system.

"I am very pleased that the system hasn't been overwhelmed," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said during a press conference.

Australia, like New Zealand, has fared better than most countries amid the COVID-19 pandemic, recording 7,109 total cases and 102 deaths from the virus. The ministry of health reported four new cases in the past 24 hours.

Oceania nations have so far fought off the worst of the pandemic with stringent lockdown measures, recording 8,726 cases and 123 deaths, according to worldometers.info.

World moves to reopen amid COVID-19 pandemic