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Coronavirus

Japan to lift state of emergency in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo

Declaration to remain in place for Tokyo, Hokkaido and three prefectures

People walk on a nearly empty street in Osaka's Dotonbori entertainment district on March 14. Advisories restricting movement in the city will soon be lifted.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan will lift the state of emergency in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures on Thursday in a move expected to quickly normalize business in the western part of the country, Nikkei has learned.

The emergency restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus are set to remain in place in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures as well as in Hokkaido.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make a final decision after a meeting on Thursday with a government advisory committee of medical and economic experts.

Abe met Wednesday with senior officials including Yasutoshi Nishimura, the economic and fiscal policy minister, and Katsunobu Kato, the health minister, to see if the state of emergency could be ended in eight prefectures still under restrictions.

Abe lifted the state of emergency in 39 of 47 prefectures on May 14. It is currently slated to expire May 31 but can ended earlier.

The government has set several criteria to ease restrictions, one of which says that new coronavirus infections should be less than 0.5 per 100,000 people for the latest week. It also examines hospital capacity and polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test availability.

Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo all met the standard for new infections as of 8 a.m. Wednesday and have enough leeway in their health care facilities to accommodate more COVID-19 patients. The government concluded that the emergency declaration can be lifted as long as there is no large-scale community spread.

Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and  Kanagawa -- home to Yokohama, Japan's second-most populous city -- remain under emergency orders. Saitama and Chiba have fewer than 0.5 new cases per 100,000 people. But while the rate of new infections has slowed in Tokyo itself, it remains above the target level.

The National Governors' Association recommended Wednesday that greater Tokyo be treated as a single area for the purposes of determining whether to end the emergency decree.

Abe will urge regions where the declaration is lifted to maintain precautions against infection even as they scale back stay-at-home requests and business closures. Residents will be encouraged to keep avoiding potential sources of infection clusters, such as restaurants.

Prefectures where the state of emergency remains in place can have it lifted before May 31 if they meet the government's requirements. Criteria have been set for reimposing a state of emergency if a second wave of infections emerges, including the time it takes for confirmed cases to double and the share of new infections that cannot be traced to a specific source.

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