Japan mulls ending state of emergency in Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo prefs.

20, May. 2020

Osaka, Japan (Photo by Amy Chandra from Pexels)
Osaka, Japan (Photo by Amy Chandra from Pexels)

TOKYO, Kyodo - Japan is considering lifting a state of emergency in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo later this week as the numbers of new coronavirus infections in the three prefectures have remained low, government officials said Tuesday.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will make the final decision on Thursday after hearing opinions from health experts, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

While the government has assessed that the western prefectures have also secured enough hospital beds and capacity to conduct virus tests, Abe and his aides are carefully watching the situations in Tokyo and Hokkaido, according to the officials.

Abe lifted the state of emergency in 39 of Japan's 47 prefectures last week and said it would be possible to do the same in the rest of the areas even before its expiry on May 31, if certain criteria are met.

The eight remaining are Tokyo, Osaka and five prefectures in their surrounding areas, as well as Hokkaido, a grouping where nearly half the country's population lives.

They have been divided into three groups based on geographical proximity -- the metropolitan area encompassing Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, the Kansai region of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, and Hokkaido.

The government will decide whether to lift the emergency by group, the officials said.

"Compared with when the emergency was declared, the numbers of new patients in the eight prefectures have fallen significantly," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.

The government plans to focus on three criteria to decide whether to end the emergency, under which people have been requested to avoid nonessential outings and businesses that require close person-to-person interactions have been asked to shut temporarily.

They are the situation of new cases, capacity to provide medical services and whether monitoring systems, including polymerase chain reaction tests, are sufficient, according to the sources.

One of the numerical targets proposed by a government panel of experts for lifting the emergency in the remaining prefectures is whether infections have fallen below 0.5 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week.

For Tokyo, with a population of roughly 14 million, it would mean that the number of people infected with the virus would have to be fewer than 70 in one week.

The three Kansai prefectures had all cleared the numerical target as of Monday, with a senior government official saying, "They will be fine (for the lifting) if things remain as they are."

The figures for Hokkaido, Tokyo and Kanagawa are 0.87, 0.77 and 1.07, respectively.

"It's still difficult for Hokkaido. I believe the metropolitan area will aim for the lifting at the end of the month," a source close to Abe said. "But there's no plan to lift Saitama and Chiba earlier (than Tokyo and Kanagawa)."

On Tuesday, the daily number of new coronavirus cases reported in Tokyo totaled five, the same as two days ago which was the lowest since the capital was placed under a state of emergency on April 7.

Another government source did not rule out the possibility of the eight prefectures together seeing the lifting on Thursday, saying the decision will not be made in light of one criterion, such as the number of new cases.

The below-0.5 criterion is more stringent compared with other countries, with Germany calling for 50 or below and New York requiring less than two over the three previous days on average out of 100,000 people.

The health ministry on Tuesday said 17,000 hospital beds have been secured for potential COVID-19 patients in Japan. (Kyodo)