Japan lifts COVID-19 emergency for 39 of 47 prefectures ahead of planned deadline

The Japanese government on Thursday decided to lift a nationwide state of emergency for 39 of the country's 47 prefectures where the coronavirus has been less prevalent.

The Japanese government on Thursday decided to lift a nationwide state of emergency for 39 of the country's 47 prefectures where the coronavirus has been less prevalent, with the move coming ahead of the planned deadline of May 31.

"Japan will lift a state of emergency for 39 of the country's 47 prefectures ahead of its planned expiration at the end of the month, as the spread of the novel coronavirus in these areas has been kept in check," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced.

The areas remaining under the state of emergency comprise urban areas such as Tokyo and the wider Tokyo metropolitan area and Osaka prefecture among others that have been harder-hit by the pneumonia-carrying virus, with the government keen to see daily infections fall further and ease the strain on the nation's medical system.

Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who also serves as Japan's minister in charge of the coronavirus response, in terms of the 39 prefecture where restrictions will begin to be lifted, said that cases of the virus have been falling and medical systems in those regions are not under threat of buckling.

"We believe it's appropriate to lift the state of emergency for the prefectures," Nishimura told an advisory panel, which includes infectious disease experts, whose views have been sought by the government as to whether restrictions could be eased in some predictions.

The panel's views were based on relevant and the most recent data regarding the rate and nature of the virus' spread and how well medical facilities have and could deal with the crisis henceforth.

As for prefectures remaining under the state of emergency, the advisory panel has proposed the infection rate should drop below 0.5 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week before the emergency state could be lifted.

For Tokyo, the epicenter of the pandemic here, the number of people infected with the virus from a population of around 14 million would have to be less than 70 in one week, the advisory panel has recommended.

Citizens where the state of emergency has been lifted will still be asked by the government to continue to avoid crowded places and close contact with people, as well as not travel between prefectures where the state of emergency has been lifted and those where it remains in place.

Abe initially declared a state of emergency for one month for seven prefectures until May 6, and this was expanded nationwide on April 16 with the deadline then extended to the end of May.

Under the state of emergency, prefectural governors have been asking their citizens to take preventative measures to curb the further spread of the virus, such as staying and working at home, while requesting some businesses to temporarily close their doors.

The health ministry and local authorities said Thursday that 68 new infections were confirmed nationwide, with 30 new coronavirus cases detected in Tokyo, bringing the national total to 16,171.

The nationwide death toll from the virus has now increased to a total of 715, including those from a cruise ship that was quarantined in Yokohama near Tokyo, the latest figures showed.

In Tokyo, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has increased to 5,027, accounting for well over one-third of all the COVID-19 cases across the nation, followed by Osaka Prefecture with 1,762 infections.

Kanagawa Prefecture, meanwhile, has recorded 1,213 infections, Hokkaido Prefecture 989 cases, Saitama Prefecture 970 infections, Chiba Prefecture 882 cases, while Hyogo Prefecture has recorded 698 cases of the COVID-19, according to the latest figures on Thursday.

The health ministry here also said there are currently a total of 263 patients considered severely ill and are on ventilators to receive respiratory assistance or have been admitted to intensive care units for medical treatment.

The ministry also said that 9,868 people have been discharged from hospitals after their symptoms improved, according to the latest figures.

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