The Japanese government revealed it would lift the COVID-19 state of emergency for nine prefectures from Monday following its coronavirus advisory panel approving the move.
Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo have been under a virus state of emergency since April 25.
The measures, which were originally supposed to be lifted on May 11, have been extended twice and expanded to include Aichi, Fukuoka, Hokkaido, Okayama, Hiroshima and Okinawa prefectures.
The state of emergency is currently set to end for all prefectures except for Okinawa on June 20.
Okinawa would remain under the current state of emergency until July 11. Japan’s southernmost prefecture has seen its healthcare facilities struggling under a surge of COVID-19 patients.
However, rather than lifting all virus measures completely, amid a downtrend in the number of new daily infections and speedier vaccination rollout, the government would introduce a quasi-state of emergency until July 11 for Tokyo and eight other prefectures.
Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures, due to seeing the virus rate and burden on medical facilities drop, would be exempt from further emergency virus measures.
However, with around one month to go until the summer Olympics set to begin in Tokyo, concerns remain that infections could rebound.
The minister in charge of the Coronavirus response, Yasutoshi Nishimura, stated at an expert panel meeting that “more people are going out. We must be mindful of Coronavirus variants and prevent a rebound in infections.’’
In contrast to the fully-fledged state of emergency which banned alcohol, under the quasi-state of emergency, serving alcohol would be allowed until 7:00 p.m. provided antiviral measures are followed.
Restaurants would continue to be requested to shut at 8:00 p.m., with governors having the power to institute tougher restriction as they deem fit.
The government would also limit the number of spectators allowed to attend large events at 10,000 people in areas where the COVID-19 state of emergency or quasi-emergency has been lifted.
This could be applied to the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, pending organisers reaching a conclusion on the matter at a meeting as early as Monday.
Overseas spectators had been banned from attending the global sporting event due to the potential for the further spread of the novel Coronavirus and its highly contagious variants.
The government’s Coronavirus advisory panel green-lighting the lifting of the virus emergency, paved the way for the decision to be finalized by the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga.
Mr Suga would explain the rationale to the public in a press conference.
Earlier Mr Suga said “while it’s true that infections are trending down nationwide, it’s also true that the pace has slowed’’ after discussing the potential lifting of emergency measures with members of his cabinet.
After talks with Health Minister, Norihisa Tamura and Nishimura he said “we would continue to move forward with vaccinations and take steps to prevent infections from spreading.’’
Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, currently under a quasi-state of emergency, would see these measures extended until July 11, while Gifu and Mie prefectures would have all restrictions lifted at the end of the weekend, under the plan.
Despite the nationwide infection rate dropping from its daily peak at more than 7,000 cases in early to mid-May under a fourth wave of infections, to 1,710 new cases was reported Wednesday infections in the capital was also down notably.
Experts have also warned that the highly transmissible Delta strain of the virus could cause infections to rebound as the Olympics are under way.