The Japanese government announced on Tuesday that the coronavirus state of emergency would end this week to help rejuvenate the economy as infections slow.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the emergency will end on Thursday and virus restrictions will be gradually relaxed “in order to resume daily life despite the presence of the virus.” He said the government would create more temporary COVID-19 treatment facilities and continue with vaccinations to prepare for any future resurgence.
“Our fight against the coronavirus is now entering a new phase,” Suga said. “Finally, we can see social and economic activities starting to normalize. “
Government officials are also implementing other plans such as vaccine passports and virus tests, Suga said.
With the lift, Japan will be released from emergency requirements for the first time in more than six months.
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Japan is keen to expand its social and economic activities while balancing the need to prevent a new 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 an effective virus strategy ahead of parliamentary elections in two months.
Japan’s current state of emergency, declared in April, has been extended and extended several times. Despite public weariness and frustration with the measures, Japan has managed to avoid more restrictive lockdowns imposed elsewhere while recording around 1.69 million cases and 17,500 deaths from COVID-19.
The emergency mainly involved requests from restaurants and bars to cut their hours and not serve alcohol. The governors of Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto have said they plan to keep those demands in place while closely monitoring the virus situation.
Restaurants and other commercial establishments currently being asked to close early are expected to gradually return to their normal hours as authorities strengthen health systems, officials said. Bars and restaurants can start serving alcohol, but they are supposed to close at 9 p.m.
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“Lifting the emergency does not mean we are 100% free,” Dr Shigeru Omi, the government’s senior medical adviser, told reporters. “The government should send a clear message to the people that we can only relax gradually. “
He urged authorities to quickly tighten controls if there are any early signs of a resurgence before holiday periods.
Infections began to worsen in July and peaked in mid-August after the Tokyo Olympics, exceeding 5,000 daily cases in Tokyo alone and surpassing 25,000 nationwide. Thousands of patients unable to find hospital beds have had to recover from the disease at home.
The Olympics and government officials deny that the Games directly caused the upsurge, but experts said the party atmosphere made people more socially active and was indirectly responsible.
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Suga decided to step down from party leadership and the post of prime minister after being criticized for his government’s virus measures and his insistence on hosting the Olympics during the pandemic despite public opposition.
Daily reported cases have fallen to around 2,000 nationwide, less than a tenth of the peak in mid-August. Experts attributed the drop in numbers to the rise in vaccinations – 58% of the population is fully vaccinated – and people who stepped up their social distancing efforts after being alarmed by the collapse of medical systems.
Immunization Minister Taro Kono recently said that Japan is preparing to start administering boosters – a third shot for those who have already received two – to medical staff by the end of this year and to the elderly at the start. next year.