TOKYO • Large parts of Japan yesterday marked the first day out of a state of emergency while major cities remained under coronavirus curbs and new testing suggested that contagion in Tokyo was wider than official figures show.
Softbank and McDonald's Japan said they would start returning to normal operations in 39 of 47 prefectures that are now exempt from the emergency declaration.
The 39 prefectures account for about 55 per cent of Japan's 126 million people.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday lifted the state of emergency for these prefectures but said the urban centres of Tokyo and Osaka and six other prefectures will remain under restrictions until there is convincing containment of the coronavirus.
The emergency gives governors more authority to tell people to stay at home and to close schools and businesses, but there is no penalty for non-compliance.
"Even in areas where the emergency has been lifted, we would like to see people refrain from moving between prefectures as much as possible, at least during this month," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said yesterday. "We hope people will be able to return to their daily lives in stages."
Restrictions in the capital would remain until at least the end of this month, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said, laying out a road map of conditions that need to be met before measures can be eased.
New daily infections should be below 20, while restrictions on businesses will be eased in stages.
"We need to solidify a 'new normal' in view of a long fight against the virus," Ms Koike said. "Telecommuting and staggered commuting would be among the concepts that we'd like to create with residents."
New cases in Tokyo have been trending downward of late. Even so, the true number may be much higher.
Kyodo News reported that antibody tests of 500 Tokyo residents indicated that 0.6 per cent had been exposed to the virus. That would correlate to about 55,000 cases, based on the 9.2 million population of Tokyo's 23 central wards, more than 10 times the official figure of infections.
Softbank said its mobile phone shops would return to normal operations in the 39 prefectures, and McDonald's, which had been offering take-out service only, said it would resume in-store dining in those regions.
But it was unclear how soon the regional economies could snap back. Little movement is expected until the end of the month, said Mr Gardner Robinson, an American who runs a hotel and restaurant in Nagano prefecture where the state of emergency is over.
"A lot of local, prefectural and federal support is tied to staying closed until then," he said. "But lifting the declaration will make it easier to get guests coming back for the green season," he added, referring to the non-ski season in the winter sports destination.
Japan's economy will recover only modestly in the second half of this year from a steep contraction in the current quarter, a Reuters poll of analysts showed yesterday. The country has reported more than 16,100 infections and some 700 deaths.