Japan lifts coronavirus emergency in all remaining areas

Japan has so far avoided the large outbreaks experienced in the US and Europe despite softer restrictions.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has lifted a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and four other remaining areas, ending the restrictions nationwide.

Experts on a government-commissioned panel approved the lifting of the emergency in the capital, neighbouring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures, and in Hokkaido to the north, which had remained under the emergency declaration after it was removed in most of Japan earlier this month.

Japan, with about 16,600 confirmed cases and 850 deaths, has so far avoided the large outbreaks experienced in the US and Europe despite softer restrictions.
(PA Graphics)

He said the goal is to balance preventive measures and the economy until vaccines and effective drugs become available.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the swift development of vaccines and effective treatments for Covid-19 are priorities towards achieving the Tokyo Olympics next year.

Mr Abe said recovery from the coronavirus pandemic only in Japan would not be enough to hold the games because it involves spectators and athletes from around the world.

He reiterated the government hopes to hold the Tokyo Games “in a complete form” – with spectators – as a proof of human victory against coronavirus.

In late March, when coronavirus became a global pandemic, Japan and the International Olympic Committee agreed to postpone the games by one year to July 2021.

Experts say developing an effective and safe vaccine by the Games next year would be difficult.

Mr Abe acknowledged the fight against the virus “would be an endurance battle”.

But the world’s third largest economy has fallen into a recession and public discontent over his handling of coronavirus has sent his support ratings tumbling.

Recent media surveys show public support for his cabinet has plunged below 30%, the lowest since he returned to office in December 2012.

Mr Abe declared the state of emergency on April 7 in several parts of Japan including Tokyo, expanded it to the entire nation later in the month, and then extended it until the end of May.

Under the emergency, people were asked to stay at home and non-essential businesses were requested to close or reduce operations, but there was no enforcement.

Since May 14, when the measures were lifted in most of Japan, more people have left their homes and stores have begun reopening.

Economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said recent data suggests infections have slowed enough and pressure on the medical system has fallen enough to allow a gradual resumption of social and economic activity.

He said Tokyo, Kanagawa and Hokkaido, where the number of infections is still fluctuating, need to be watched closely.

Individual prefectures are allowed to impose their own measures.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said last week that the capital will reopen in three phases starting with schools, libraries, museums, and longer service hours for restaurants.

She said theatres, sports facilities and other commercial establishments will be next, with nightclubs, karaoke and live music houses in the final phase.