The Japan government on Monday decided to lift the state of emergency for COVID-19 in Tokyo and four other prefectures of the country, the only places where the measure implemented to curb the pandemic had remained in force.
The lifting of the alert was backed by the coronavirus advisory panel and will be formally approved by the government later day, the economic revitalization minister and head of the working group to coordinate Japan's fight against COVID-19, Yasutoshi Nishimura, said.
The Japanese authorities made the decision after taking into account the number of infections and the situation of the health system in Tokyo, the three neighbouring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama and the northern Hokkaido, the only ones where the state of emergency declared more than a month ago to control the pandemic remained in effect, reports Efe news.
The health alert was initially declared in Tokyo and six other prefectures on April 17 and subsequently extended across the country.
It allowed local authorities to ban large-scale public events and close bars and restaurants at night, among other measures, while the government has launched a campaign to encourage teleworking and staying at home.
The government resorted to this measure for the first time in the country's recent history to contain the spread of the virus and is now withdrawing it after a sustained slowdown in infections throughout the archipelago, where around 16,600 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 839 deaths have been recorded, according to the latest data.
The group of experts advising the government appreciated the efforts made by citizens to comply with the recommendations to achieve the target of reducing interpersonal contact by 80 percent, top government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference on Monday.
The recommendation for citizens to avoid unnecessary trips outside and the request for non-essential businesses to close were not mandatory nor accompanied by fines or other penalties for non-compliance, unlike the stricter containment measures implemented in other countries.
The government plans to formally approve the lifting of the state of emergency on Monday after consulting with other political parties in parliament and another meeting with the advisory panel, following which Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will hold a press conference.
The government had already decided to lift the emergency in 39 prefectures on May 14 after they reported a marked decrease in the number of infections, leaving out the more populated regions such as Tokyo and Osaka.
To avoid new outbreaks of the virus, Abe has urged people to become accustomed to a "new lifestyle" that includes maintaining social distancing, the use of masks outside as well as a series of guidelines for the reopening of shops, restaurants and public facilities.