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Coronavirus

Most of Japan to reopen Thursday, but not big cities

Tourist destinations Hokkaido and Kyoto to remain closed

The Tokyo Skytree towers above Japan's capital, which will remain under a state of emergency. (Photo by Akira Kodaka)

TOKYO -- Japan is expected to bring an early end to the state of emergency on Thursday in 39 of its 47 prefectures, though greater Tokyo and Osaka will remain on the list of potential coronavirus hot spots.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to announce the move in the evening after a panel of experts accepted the government's proposal to end the emergency in the designated prefectures.

The state of emergency, which is currently slated to end May 31, will continue in Tokyo and Osaka. While new coronavirus cases are declining in those cities, hospitalizations remain high and looser restrictions could increase the risk of further infections.

Kyoto was considered as well, but Abe's government chose to keep the popular tourist destination on alert.

The government is expected to lift the declaration in Fukuoka, Aichi, Ishikawa, Ibaraki and Gifu prefectures, which were previously designated as hot spots, along with the 34 regions not on that list. The latter show little risk of an explosion in COVID-19 cases.

The Tokyo-area prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba are expected to remain on the alert list, as is Hyogo Prefecture near Osaka, given the possibility of commuters spreading the virus. The northern prefecture of Hokkaido, which is dealing with a second wave of cases, will stay on the list as well.

The state of emergency will be reassessed around May 21. The declaration may be lifted in areas where the outbreak is subsiding, or reimposed if there are signs of cases rising again.

Also on Thursday, Japan will release criteria for ending the state of emergency, looking at factors including infection rates, health care capacity and testing. A draft from the panel sets a target of 0.5 or fewer total cases per 100,000 people over the preceding week.

Residents of areas removed from the state of emergency will be encouraged to continue social distancing measures.

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