On February 26, the government announced the end of the state of emergency for six of the prefectures and metropolitan areas covered by the measure, effective February 28.
The emergency has been lifted for Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures in the Kansai region, Aichi and Gifu prefectures in Chubu region just east of Kansai, and Fukuoka Prefecture in Kyushu.
The announcement that the state of emergency is lifted for these six areas was made following the meeting of the expert committee in the afternoon of February 26.
Japan entered a one month state of emergency on January 7 as new COVID-19 cases soared following the year-end and New Year festivities. It was extended for an additional month until March 7. However, the decline in new cases prompted the expert committee and government to reconsider, resulting in the lifting of the state of emergency a week earlier than planned.
The measures under Japan's second state of emergency are part of the legal framework in the Special Provisions Law for the Prevention of Infectious diseases. They include measures such as allowing local governments to ask bars and restaurants to close early (at 8P.M.) and incentives to encourage businesses to comply. Large events are also currently capped at 5,000 spectators. With the lifting of the current measures, it's envisioned that the cap will go up gradually to 10,000 spectators.
In order to exit the state of the emergency the regions must satisfy six criteria. Factors considered include the number of new infections, the strain hospitals are under from serious cases requiring hospitalization, and similar factors. The views of regional governments are also taken into account.
Areas Still Under a State of Emergency
Not all regions will see an immediate lifting of the state of emergency. Tokyo and the surrounding three prefectures of Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa are set to see the lifting of the State of Emergency continue until the expiration of the current order on March 7.
Ibaraki prefecture, on the other hand, had already exited the state of emergency earlier in February.
The state of emergency was imposed following a fast rise in the number of cases in November and December 2020, forcing stricter measures at the start of 2021. Nationwide, at its peak Japan had a record of over 7,000 infections a day nationwide in early January.
However, in recent weeks the numbers have steadily decreased. Since the beginning of February, the numbers have tipped in at less than 2,000 a day nationwide, with 1,076 on February 25.
The capital Tokyo represented a large portion of national cases in the initial winter surge, with daily new infections even reaching peaks of 2520 cases in one day in January.
Even though many regions are set to be released from the state of emergency, experts and local government leaders are calling for measures to be relaxed gradually, lest it leads to what experts call a 'rebound' in cases.
"If the state of emergency is lifted, I would like each region to do their utmost and take the necessary measures to avoid a renewed spread of infections," said Minister of Health Norihisa Tamura when he spoke to the press on February 26.
Japan began vaccinating health workers on February 17. Private citizens not in the healthcare industry will begin vaccinations on April 12, according to the Minister in charge of vaccinations, Taro Kono.
Author: Arielle Busetto