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Japan to lift all COVID-19 emergency steps

·2-min read

Japan's government has announced the nation's COVID-19 state of emergency will end this week so the economy can be reactivated as infections slow.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Tuesday said the emergency will end on Thursday and restrictions will be eased gradually "in order to resume daily lives despite the presence of the virus".

He said the government will create more temporary treatment facilities and continue vaccinations to prepare for any future resurgence.

Government officials are also instituting other plans such as vaccine passports and virus tests, Suga said.

With the lifting, Japan will be free of emergency requirements for the first time in more than six months.

Japan's current state of emergency, declared in April, was repeatedly extended and expanded. Despite public weariness and frustration over the measures, the country has managed to avoid the more restrictive lockdowns imposed elsewhere while recording about 1.69 million cases and 17,500 deaths.

Japan is eager to expand social and economic activities while balancing the need to prevent another wave of infections. The government, which is in transition as the governing party chooses a replacement for Suga later this week, is under pressure to maintain an effective virus strategy ahead of parliamentary elections in two months.

Eateries and other commercial establishments currently requested to close early should gradually return to their normal hours while the authorities reinforce health care systems, officials said.

Infections started to worsen in July and peaked in mid-August after the Tokyo Olympics, surging above 5000 daily cases in Tokyo alone and topping 25,000 nationwide. Thousands of patients unable to find hospital beds had to recover from the illness at home.

Olympics and government officials deny the Games directly caused the upsurge, but experts said the festive atmosphere made people more socially active and was indirectly responsible.

Suga decided to step down from party leadership and the premiership after facing criticism over his government's virus measures and his insistence on holding the Olympics during the pandemic despite public opposition.

Daily reported cases have fallen to around 2000 nationwide - less than one-tenth of the mid-August peak.

Experts attributed the declining numbers to the progress of vaccinations - 58 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated - and to people increasing their social distancing efforts after being alarmed by the collapse of medical systems.

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