Japan to lift COVID-19 quasi-emergency restrictions next week

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March 16 (UPI) — Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday the country will end COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency measures as the infection rate slows.

“The number of coronavirus infections has decreased to about half of what it was at its peak,” Kishida said at a press conference. “Although there are regional differences, there is a clear downtrend in the occupancy rate of hospital beds and tally of people recuperating at home.”

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In response to the “downtrend,” the country will lift the COVID-19 restrictions in all 18 prefectures on Monday, including the Tokyo area, where 10,221 new cases were reported Wednesday, down around 600 cases from the prior week.

Kishida added that the fatality rate from COVID-19 was still higher than the flu.

Still, people who work in medical facilities and elderly care homes will no longer be limited to close contacts, Kishida said, while stressing the need to return closer to normal to revive the economy from COVID-19 restrictions.

“For a while, there will be a transition period,” Kishida said. “It’s a period during which we continue exercising maximum caution while returning to normal life as much as possible by ensuring safety.”

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The quasi-state of emergency allowed governors to request restaurants and bars close early and stop serving alcohol. It began in late January amid the spread of the Omicron variant after a full state of emergency ended three months beforehand.

On Thursday, experts will meet to discuss the plan to end the emergency.

New government guidelines allow the quasi-emergency to be lifted despite infections numbers remaining high if the rate of new infections is decreasing.

Though infection rates are down, spread of the BA.2 subvariant of COVID-19 has raised concern about a resurgence of cases.

The government plans to procure 75 million vaccine doses from Pfizer and 70 million from Moderna to prepare for the rollout of fourth shots “at the most appropriate time,” based on scientific evidence.

In a prelude to possibly reviving its Go To Travel campaign, the government also plans to expand subsides for local travel next month.