Tokyo, Sept. 28 (BNA): Japan is set to lift all coronavirus emergency measures when they expire later this week as infections slow and the nation tries to revitalize its economy.
Officials in charge of coronavirus measures won the approval of experts at Tuesday’s meeting, on the condition that the easing of restrictions is gradual. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to announce the lifting of the state of emergency and subsequent plans later Tuesday.
With the lifting, Japan will be completely free of any emergency requirements for the first time since April. Government officials are preparing for the easing restrictions by making other plans such as vaccine passports and virus tests, the AP reports.
Emergency and other measures expire in all 27 governorates at the end of September. Some experts want to reduce the state of emergency in 19 regions to a semi-emergency first to ensure the infection does not recover quickly, and the government is reportedly considering such a strategy.
The emergency was mainly in the form of requests to open restaurants and bars for shorter hours and not serve alcoholic beverages. The governors of Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto said they plan to keep these orders in place while closely monitoring virus cases.
Japan is keen to expand social and economic activities while balancing the need to prevent the next wave of infection. The government, which is in transition as the ruling party selects a replacement for Suga later this week, is under pressure to maintain effective virus strategies ahead of parliamentary elections in two months’ time.
Economy and Finance Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of COVID-19 measures, said the easing of measures will be gradual as cold weather raises concern about a resurgence.
Officials said restaurants and other businesses required to close early should gradually return to normal business hours as authorities strengthen health care systems to prepare for the next outbreak.
“Lifting the state of emergency does not mean we are 100% free,” Dr Shigeru Omi, the government’s chief medical advisor, told reporters. “The government should send a clear message to the people that we can only relax gradually.”
He urged authorities to tighten controls urgently when there are early signs of a resurgence before holiday periods.
The current and fifth state of emergency in Japan in April has been repeatedly extended and expanded, 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 with around 1.69 million cases of infection and 17,500 deaths from COVID-19 recorded.
The infection began worsening in July and peaked in mid-August after the Olympics, with cases exceeding 5,000 in Tokyo alone and over 25,000 cases nationwide. Thousands of patients unable to find beds in the hospital had to beat the disease at home.
Olympics and government officials deny that the Games directly caused the increase, but experts said the festive atmosphere made people more socially active and were indirectly responsible.
Suga decided to step down as party leader and prime minister after being criticized for his government’s virus measures and his insistence on holding the Olympics during a pandemic despite popular opposition.
Reported cases per day have fallen to about 2,000 nationwide – less than a tenth of the peak in mid-August. Experts attributed the lower numbers to advances in vaccinations – 56% of the population has been fully vaccinated – and to an increase in their efforts at social distancing after worrying about the collapse of medical systems.
Vaccination Minister Taro Kono recently said Japan is also preparing to start administering boosters — a third shot for those who have already received two — for medical workers by the end of this year and for the elderly early next year.