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Coronavirus

Japan to lift COVID emergency early except for greater Tokyo

As indicators improve, declaration to wind down at month's end in six prefectures

A sign at Osaka's bustling Umeda Station advises that a coronavirus state of emergency is in effect.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- The Japanese government plans to end its coronavirus state of emergency early in Fukuoka, Osaka, Nagoya and surrounding areas.

The declaration runs to March 7 for 10 prefectures but will now expire at the end of February for Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi -- home to Nagoya -- and Gifu.

A decision is slated for Friday following a government advisory panel meeting. The step will be based partly on improving trends in new cases recorded in the five prefectures.

"Some governors have requested that we lift" the emergency order, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday. "I intend to make the decision upon hearing [expert] opinion."

The governors of Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Aichi asked for month's end. Fukuoka also requested an early termination.

People are scarce on a normally crowded Osaka street on a weekday night during the city's coronavirus state of emergency. (Photo by Yuichiro Takagi)

The decision to end the state of emergency is based on a four-tier severity ranking across six indicators. The indicators must be below Stage 4 -- the most severe scenario -- for a prefecture to be considered as a candidate.

The criteria include hospital occupancy rates and new-case numbers. As of Wednesday, there were 3 to 7 new infections per 100,000 people in the six prefectures. This is far below the Stage 3 threshold of 15 cases per 100,000.

For the same six prefectures, the total hospital occupancy rate was under 50%, the threshold for Stage 4.

Tokyo's infection rate was 15 per 100,000. Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of COVID-19 response, expressed concern Wednesday that neighboring Chiba Prefecture's case count is trending upward compared with last week.

For Tokyo and three other nearby prefectures, the government will decide next week whether to lift the emergency declaration on March 7.

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