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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Japan to end virus emergency nationwide this week as cases fall

Customers dine in the outdoor section of a restaurant in the Ameyoko shopping street in Tokyo on Sept. 5.   (Kentaro Takahashi/Bloomberg)
By Isabel Reynolds Bloomberg

Japan will lift a virus state of emergency at the end of September as new COVID-19 infections recede, easing restrictions that have dragged on the economy and limited operations at places such as bars, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he would end the restrictions Friday for Tokyo and 18 other areas that make up about 75% of Japan’s economy as his government looks to roll back curbs gradually that called on places like eateries and pubs to close early and restricted sales of alcohol.

“The fight against the coronavirus is entering a new phase,” Suga said at a Tuesday meeting of his virus task force. “While we prepare for the next wave of infections, the government must continue to work as one to enable people to combine virus precautions with everyday life.”

The state of emergency in Tokyo is being lifted for the first time in more than two months as new cases in Japan fell to 1,128 on Monday compared with levels of more than 25,000 in mid-August. The country’s vaccination program has also proceeded steadily, with more than 58% of the population fully immunized, putting Japan just ahead of the U.S.

The new measures would also allow for the number of spectators at sporting events to increase to a maximum of 10,000 at large-scale venues from the current 5,000, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said Tuesday.

Suga reiterated the national government was considering ways of using vaccination certificates and test results to help ease restrictions, saying the country’s health care system was increasingly able to cope with a certain level of infections.

Lifting the emergency will be among the last tasks of Suga’s yearlong term in office. His replacement as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will be selected Wednesday and formally elected premier by parliament on Oct. 4. Suga dropped a plan to run for re-election amid low support rates and widespread criticism of his handling of the pandemic.

Certified bars and restaurants that take precautions such as installing perspex screens and adequate ventilation would be allowed to serve alcohol and to open until 9 p.m. at the discretion of local authorities, Suga added.