Japan lifts COVID-19 emergency measures entirely this week

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The Japanese government will fully lift the COVID-19 state of emergency, which currently includes Tokyo and 18 prefectures, as well as a quasi-state of emergency for eight regions when they expire on Thursday amid a steady decline in infection numbers, a known source on the matter said Monday.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said his government would make a formal decision on Tuesday, taking into account the opinions of a panel of experts on infectious diseases and other areas. If repealed, it would be the first time since April 4 that none of the country’s 47 prefectures is in a state of emergency or quasi-emergency.

People walk in Sapporo, Hokkaido on September 13, 2021 amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Kyodo)

“The number of new coronavirus patients has fallen dramatically, so I understand the situation has improved in that sense,” Suga said after meeting members of his cabinet, including Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister responsible for the coronavirus response.

“We must continue to be very careful and gradually relax the restrictions, including on food,” said Suga, who will soon step down as prime minister.

Previously, some areas were either downgraded to a quasi-emergency, with fewer restrictions, or raised to a state of emergency.

In the state of emergency, people are urged to avoid crowded areas, while restaurants are asked to close until 8:00 p.m. and not serve alcohol.

Tokyo joined Okinawa when it fell under the Declaration of Emergency on July 12 and remained under the measure during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, which took place with little to no spectators at the Games’ venues. The other areas were put under the measure in August.

Nationwide infections peaked in August at around 25,000 per day, triggered by the highly contagious Delta variant, but have steadily declined since then.

1,147 cases of infection were reported nationwide on Monday.

The Japanese capital, which confirmed a record 5,773 cases on August 13, recorded 154 cases on Monday, falling below 200 for the first time since March 22.

In areas where the state of emergency will be lifted, the government plans to close approved restaurants at 9 p.m., while other facilities will continue to be urged to close at 8 p.m. The serving of alcohol will also be allowed.

The extent to which restrictions are relaxed in the month following the lifting of the emergency is at the discretion of the prefecture governors. Conversely, they are also authorized to resume applications for reduced business hours if this is deemed necessary.

In a related development, Japan will conduct an experiment to detect COVID-19 vaccination in professional baseball and soccer stadiums to ease capacity constraints, Nishimura said.

The experiment is slated to run in October as Japan continues to see a steady decline in newly reported coronavirus cases, according to senior officials from Nippon Professional Baseball and the J-League of Football who held a meeting with Nishimura.

“We would like to make further adjustments and carry out the experiment at an appropriate time,” said Nishimura during discussions with NPB General Secretary Atsushi Ihara and J-League chairman Mitsuru Murai.

Currently, the maximum audience for professional baseball and soccer games in areas of state of emergency or quasi-emergency is 5,000.

Once these measures against the virus are lifted, the cap on major sporting events will be raised to 10,000.

If the situation permits, the government is considering raising the viewer limit further by accepting proof of full vaccination or a negative test certificate on the upcoming experiment.

The government also plans to run a series of tests in restaurants, live music events, and other places that typically attract large crowds from October in preparation for the easing of restrictions.


Related coverage:

Japan shortens quarantine time for vaccinated travelers

Japan’s Prime Minister Suga optimism suggests lifting the COVID-19 state of emergency

Japan is reviewing the medical system ahead of a possible 6th wave of COVID



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