Japan has lifted a state of emergency imposed to tackle the coronavirus in most of the country, but kept it in place for the capital, Tokyo, and Osaka.
“Today we decided to lift the state of emergency in 39 (out of 47) prefectures,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday in a nationally televised news conference after a coronavirus task force meeting of officials and experts.
Abe declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 in the capital and six other urban prefectures and later expanded it to the whole country until May 31.
With signs of the infections slowing, Abe sought to relax the measure and balance disease prevention with the Japanese economy, the third largest in the world.
The 39 prefectures, where the state of emergency was lifted, represent 54 percent of the country’s population.
Japan has more than 16,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with about 680 deaths. The number of new cases has significantly decreased nationwide.
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 for every 100,000 people, compared with 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.
Although Japan’s state of emergency declaration lacked enforcement powers, mobility data showed a marked drop in the movement of people.
The government this week reported a 20 percent 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.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, in his opening remarks at the task force meeting on Thursday, asked experts to provide a basis for easing the measure, a well as its possible tightening, in case of a resurgence of the outbreak.
Japanese experts and officials have urged people to adopt “new lifestyles” and continue practising physical distancing measures such as remote working, even after the state of emergency is lifted.
Tokyo closes shops, Kyoto keeps tourists away as virus spreads