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Coronavirus

Kyoto and Fukuoka set to reopen as Japan relaxes virus alert

State of emergency to remain in effect in Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido

A tourist spot in Kyoto. The prefecture is among five former areas of concern where Japan is considering lifting an emergency decree due to the coronavirus. (Photo by Toshiki Sasazu)

TOKYO -- Japan will consider lifting its state of emergency for five prefectures previously designated as potential hot spots for coronavirus outbreaks, including popular tourist destination Kyoto, but Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido will remain covered by the decree, Nikkei has learned.

Kyoto, Aichi, Fukuoka, Ibaraki and Gifu prefectures are candidates to be excluded from the declaration, along with all 34 prefectures not on the alert list. Aichi Prefecture includes Nagoya, Japan's fourth-largest city.

A government expert panel and an advisory committee on the outbreak are set to meet Thursday to make a final decision.

Japan initially declared a state of emergency in seven prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, on April 7. The decree was expanded nationwide on April 16, with six prefectures designated alongside the original seven as requiring particular caution, and extended last week until the end of May.

The prefectures not on the alert list, along with the five under consideration, have reported declines in new COVID-19 cases and are seen as at low risk for an explosive surge in infections.

Meanwhile, although Tokyo's daily cases have been trending downward, hospitalizations are still high, and the capital could face a hospital bed shortage if infections begin to rise again. Concerns remain about a potential upswing in new cases in Osaka, while Hokkaido continues to grapple with a second wave of infections. The remaining prefectures are largely in the greater Tokyo and Osaka areas.

The government will review the state of emergency again around May 21. The declaration may be lifted before the May 31 end date if the spread of the virus slows, or expanded if there are signs of new cases rising.

The government's expert panel is drafting criteria for ending the state of emergency. A draft disclosed Tuesday sets a target of 0.5 or fewer total cases per 100,000 people over the preceding week, with some leeway if a large share of new cases can be traced.

Conditions in neighboring prefectures will also be considered given the risk of spreading the virus through travel. The government may also look at the percentage of positive tests as well as access to testing for those considered to need it.

One proposal calls for a state of emergency to be reimposed if new cases exceed 5 per 100,000 people. Other possible criteria include a doubling time of 10 days or fewer and untraceable cases exceeding 30% of the total.

Economic and Fiscal Policy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who leads Japan's coronavirus response, said Tuesday that people should refrain from using facilities associated with community-acquired infections, such as restaurants and gyms, even after the state of emergency is lifted. Travel between high-alert prefectures "must be avoided," he told reporters.

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