Experts on a special government panel have approved a plan to remove a coronavirus state of emergency from Tokyo and four other remaining prefectures, paving the way for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to declare entirely ending the measure to allow businesses to gradually resume.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that experts on a government-commissioned panel approved the plan to end the state of emergency that has lasted for more than a month and a half.
Abe is to officially declare the end of the state of emergency later Monday after endorsement from parliamentary committees.
Nishimura said lifting of the emergency does not mean the end of the pandemic. He said the goal is to minimize next possible recurrences of infections while balancing preventive measures and the economy.
Abe declared the state of emergency on April 7, first in parts of Japan including Tokyo, expanded it to the entire nation later in the month and extended it until the end of May.
Unlike a European-style hard lockdown, Japan’s state of emergency is soft and largely a request for people to stay at home and for non-essential businesses to close or operate shorter hours, a strategy aiming at minimizing the economic damage.
Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures are to reopen schools, public facilities and businesses in phases in coming weeks while watching any signs of a resurgence of infections.
Nishimura said recent data suggest that the infections have slowed enough and the medical systems are under less pressure and that it’s time to gradually resume social and economic activity. Tokyo and Hokkaido, where more than a dozen new cases have been reported Sunday, still need to remain extra-cautious, he said.
“We cannot completely eliminate the coronavirus to zero, Nishimura said. Even after the state of emergency is lifted, we must firmly take preventive measures based on our new lifestyles. Japan has 16,580 confirmed cases and 830 deaths, according to the health ministry.