Japan to end Covid-19 state of emergency this month

Like many other countries, Japan had struggled to contain the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.
Like many other countries, Japan had struggled to contain the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan will lift a coronavirus state of emergency in all regions on Thursday (Sept 30) as the number of new cases falls and the strain on the medical system eases, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Tuesday.

The plan, approved by a government advisory panel, takes Japan as a whole out of an emergency state for the first time in nearly six months. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will hold a news conference at 7pm local time (1000 GMT) to announce the decision after the plan is formalised by a government task force.

But Nishimura said some limitations on eateries and large-scale events would remain in place for about a month to prevent a resurgence in cases.

“New cases will undoubtedly rise after the emergency state is lifted,” Nishimura, who also oversees Japan’s coronavirus response, said on Tuesday as the advisory panel began its meeting.

“We need to continue with the necessary measures to prevent a rebound,” he said, adding that if cases surged again, reinstatement of a more limited “quasi emergency” was possible.

Restaurants in areas under emergency curbs are now required to close by 8pm and not serve alcohol.

Nishimura said the government would introduce a certification system whereby only approved restaurants could stay open until 9pm, although the ban on alcohol would be lifted everywhere unless prefectural governors objected.

Like many other countries, Japan had struggled to contain the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant - including through the Summer Olympic Games - keeping much of the country under emergency restrictions.

But new daily cases steadily fallen over the past month, to 1,128 nationwide on Monday, according to the health minister, nearly halving from the 2,129 on Sunday and down from a daily high of about 25,000 infections at the peak.

Nearly 60 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated and the government has said all those who want the shot will have gotten one by November.