TOKYO – The Japanese government said the coronavirus state of emergency will end on Thursday so the economy can be reactivated as infections slow.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Tuesday that restrictions on viruses will be gradually relaxed.
With the lift, Japan will be fully released from emergency requirements for the first time in more than six months. Government officials are bracing for the relaxed restrictions by instituting other plans such as vaccine passports and virus tests.
Japan’s current state of emergency, declared in April, has been extended and extended several times. Despite public weariness and frustration with the measures, Japan has managed to avoid more restrictive lockdowns imposed elsewhere while recording around 1.69 million cases and 17,500 deaths from COVID-19.
Emergency and other measures in the 27 prefectures expire at the end of September. Some experts want the state of emergency in 19 regions to be reduced to a near-emergency first to ensure infections do not rebound quickly, and the government is reportedly considering this strategy.
The emergency mainly took the form of requests that restaurants and bars open for shorter periods of time and not serve alcohol. The governors of Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto have said they plan to keep those demands in place while closely monitoring the virus situation.
Japan is keen to expand its social and economic activities while balancing the need to prevent the next wave of infections. The government, which is in transition as the ruling party chooses a replacement for Suga later this week, is under pressure to maintain effective virus strategies ahead of parliamentary elections in two months.
Economy and Finance Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, also in charge of COVID-19 measures, said the easing of measures will be phased in as cooler weather raises concerns of a resurgence.
Restaurants and other commercial establishments currently required to close early are expected to gradually return to normal hours as authorities strengthen health systems to prepare for the next outbreak, officials said.
“Lifting the emergency does not mean that we are 100% free,” Dr Shigeru Omi, the government’s chief medical adviser, told reporters. “The government should send a clear message to the people that we can only relax gradually.”
He urged authorities to quickly tighten controls when there are early signs of a resurgence before holiday periods.
The ongoing state of emergency and the fifth state of emergency declared in April in Japan have been repeatedly extended and extended, becoming the longest since the pandemic began last year. Despite public weariness and frustration with the measures, Japan has managed to avoid more restrictive lockdowns imposed elsewhere while recording around 1.69 million cases of infection and 17,500 deaths from COVID-19.
Infections began to worsen in July and peaked in mid-August after the Olympics, topping 5,000 cases in Tokyo alone and topping 25,000 nationwide. Thousands of patients unable to find hospital beds have had to overcome the disease at home.
The Olympics and government officials deny that the games directly caused the upsurge, but experts said the party atmosphere made people more socially active and was indirectly responsible for it.
Suga decided to step down from party leadership and the post of prime minister after being criticized for his government’s virus measures and his insistence on hosting the Olympics during a pandemic despite public opposition.
Daily reported cases have fallen to around 2,000 nationwide, less than a tenth of the peak in mid-August. Experts attributed the drop in numbers to the rise in vaccinations – 56% of the population is fully vaccinated – and people increasing their social distancing efforts after being alarmed by the collapse of medical systems.
Vaccinations Minister Taro Kono recently said that Japan is also preparing to start administering boosters – a third shot for those who have already received two – to medical staff by the end of this year and to people elderly early next year.