Japan is expected to lift the state of emergency for 39 of its 47 prefectures on Thursday, local media reported, while the capital Tokyo is set to keep restrictions in place until it sees a convincing containment of the coronavirus.
The world’s third-largest economy declared a nationwide state of emergency a month ago, urging citizens to reduce person-to-person contact by 80% in an effort to slow the pace of new infections and ease the strain on medical services. The government had said it would reassess the situation in mid-May.
The declaration gives governors added authority to tell people to stay home and close schools and businesses, but there is no penalty for non-compliance. Some non-essential businesses even in hard-hit areas have gradually started to reopen ahead of the government’s review.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, like leaders everywhere, is striving to strike a balance between damage to the economy from prolonged shutdowns and the need to contain the virus. The government said this week it would add four economists to its advisory panel for combating the epidemic.
Japan has reported 16 100 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, excluding those from a cruise ship previously quarantined in Yokohama, and 696 deaths to date from the disease it causes, COVID-19, according to public broadcaster NHK.
While Japan has avoided the kind of explosive growth seen in the United States and elsewhere, its testing has also been among the lowest, at 188 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests per 100 000 people, versus 3 159 in Italy and 3 044 in Germany.
Hardest-hit Tokyo has conducted just 50 000 tests so far, of which about 5 000 were positive. With hospitals still stretched, the capital and surrounding prefectures are set to remain in a state of emergency.
Abe is scheduled to hold a news conference at 6 p.m. (0900 GM). The government is also expected to disclose criteria for ending and reinstating the state of emergency, and local media said another review would be conducted again in about a week.
The government this week reported a 20% fall in the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients in the nine days to May 7, to 4 449. In Tokyo, new cases fell to just 10 on Wednesday.