Japan to formally decide on March 21 end of COVID emergency in Tokyo area

Mar 18 , 2021. 1 hour ago – 09:05 KYODO NEWS

TOKYO – The Japanese government is set to formally decide Thursday to end the COVID-19 state of emergency in the Tokyo region on Sunday as planned, having deemed another extension unnecessary as infections have declined from their peak and the strain on hospitals has eased.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to announce the end of the measure in the capital and three surrounding prefectures, the last area of the country under the emergency declaration, at a coronavirus task force meeting in the evening after consulting a panel of experts in infectious disease and other fields.

Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures have been under the emergency since early January, with people urged to refrain from nonessential outings and restaurants and bars told to close by 8 p.m.

Businesses have been encouraged to adopt remote working and attendance at large-scale events such as concerts and sports games has been capped at half capacity up to a limit of 5,000.

Infections have fallen since the restrictions were imposed, but the decline has bottomed out and even rebounded in some prefectures including Tokyo, which reported 409 new cases Wednesday, the most since Feb. 18.

Suga on Wednesday pledged to take steps to prevent a resurgence in coronavirus infections, a particular concern as the country enters the season for cherry blossom-viewing parties as well as school entrance and graduation celebrations. But he did not elaborate on specifics.

According to government sources, he is set to announce at a press conference new measures aimed at supporting restaurants and bars hit hard by the pandemic, bolstering the health care system, preventing the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants and stepping up testing and vaccination.

The exit from the state of emergency comes as Suga seeks to buoy the pandemic-stricken economy and restore confidence in his administration following a series of scandals at the communications ministry involving ties with his eldest son, who works for a broadcasting company.

It also comes with less than five months to go until the postponed Tokyo Olympics, which the International Olympic Committee and local organizers say will go ahead despite COVID-19 concerns, likely without overseas spectators.

Suga declared a one-month emergency in the Tokyo metropolitan region on Jan. 7 amid a surge in infections, later expanding it to a total of 11 prefectures and extending it for most of them by another month, to March 7. It was further extended by two weeks to Sunday for the capital and its neighbors.