Japan to lift all emergency measures for coronavirus across the country

TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s government says the coronavirus state of emergency will end on Thursday so the economy can revive as infections slow.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced Tuesday that virus restrictions will be gradually eased.

With the lift, Japan will be completely free of emergency requirements for the first time in more than six months.

Japan’s current state of emergency, declared in April, was repeatedly extended and expanded. Despite public exhaustion and frustration over the measures, Japan has managed to avoid the more restrictive closures imposed elsewhere, while recording about 1.69 million cases and 17,500 deaths from COVID-19.

THIS IS A LAST MINUTE UPDATE. The previous AP story follows below.

TOKYO (AP) – Japan will lift all emergency measures related to the coronavirus when they expire later this week as infections decline and the nation tries to revive its economy.

Officials in charge of anti-coronavirus measures garnered expert backing at a meeting on Tuesday, on the condition that the easing of restrictions be gradual. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to announce the lifting of the emergency and subsequent plans later on Tuesday.

With the uprising, Japan will be completely free of any emergency requirements for the first time since April. Government officials are preparing for the relaxed restrictions by instituting other plans, such as vaccine passports and virus tests.

The emergency and other measures in the 27 prefectures expire at the end of September. Some experts want the state of emergency in 19 areas to be reduced to a quasi-emergency first to ensure infections do not recover quickly, and the government is reportedly considering the strategy.

The emergency has mainly been in the form of requests for restaurants and bars to open shorter hours and not serve alcohol. The governors of Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto have said they plan to keep those requests in place while closely monitoring virus situations.

Japan is eager to expand 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 strategies against the virus ahead of parliamentary elections in two months.

Economy and Tax Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, also in charge of COVID-19 measures, said the easing of the measures will be gradual as cooler weather raises concerns about a resurgence.

Restaurants and other business establishments that are currently required to close early should gradually return to their normal hours as authorities beef up health care systems to prepare for the next outbreak, authorities said.

“The lifting of the emergency does not mean that we are 100% free,” Dr. Shigeru Omi, the government’s top medical adviser, told reporters. “The government must 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.

Japan’s fifth ongoing state of emergency declared in April was repeatedly extended and expanded, becoming the longest since the pandemic began last year. Despite public exhaustion and frustration over the measures, Japan has managed to avoid the more restrictive closures 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, surpassing 5,000 cases in Tokyo alone and surpassing 25,000 nationwide. Thousands of patients who could not find hospital beds had to overcome the illness at home.

The Olympics and government officials deny that the games directly caused the spike, but experts said the festive atmosphere made people more socially active and that it was indirectly responsible.

Suga decided to step down from the party leadership and the post of prime minister after facing criticism for his government’s measures against the virus and his insistence on holding the Olympics during a pandemic despite public opposition.

Cases reported daily have dropped to around 2,000 across the country, less than a tenth of the peak in mid-August. Experts attributed the decline in numbers to the progress of vaccinations (56% of the population is fully vaccinated) as people increased their social distancing efforts after being alarmed by the collapse of medical systems.

Vaccine Minister Taro Kono said recently that Japan is also preparing to start administering boosters, a third injection for those who have already received two, to medical personnel by the end of this year, and to the elderly early next year.

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