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Gov’t to review next week early lifting of state of emergency

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TOKYO

The Japanese government is set to review next week an early lifting of the COVID-19 state of emergency covering Tokyo and other regions, after deciding Friday to maintain it as hospitals remain under strain despite a decline in infections.

The government will decide whether areas can exit the state of emergency prior to its scheduled end on March 7 after the revised coronavirus special measures law, which will penalize businesses that do not comply with antivirus restrictions, comes into force Saturday.

About 1,300 coronavirus cases were reported nationwide Friday, falling below 2,000 for the sixth consecutive day and down from the single-day peak of 7,882 on Jan 8.

A total of 62 deaths attributed to COVID-19 were confirmed Friday and the number of patients with severe symptoms decreased to 701, down 12 from the previous day, according to the health ministry, as hospitals still struggled to secure enough beds for them.

The proportion of cases involving elderly patients, considered at higher risk of developing severe symptoms, was on a rising trend in the capital, according to metropolitan government data.

In the meantime, coronavirus infections in Tokyo, the highest number among the country’s 47 prefectures, have been on a downward trend lately, with the metropolitan government confirming 307 new cases Friday.

The newly reported figures brought the total number of cases in the capital to 105,765, while the seven-day rolling average of new cases in Tokyo fell below 500 on Thursday.

A seven-day average of 500 cases per day or lower is considered a cue for lifting the state of emergency, but health and economic experts warned that an immediate lifting of the emergency based on such a figure could lead to a resurgence of infections and harm the economy.

The government decided against lifting the state of emergency as it continues to weigh the risk of a resurgence of cases alongside the need to restart economic activity, which has stalled as a result of its calls for people to refrain from unnecessary outings and for restaurants and bars to close early.

Government officials said earlier that the state of emergency could be lifted in some regions before March 7 and several prefectures, including Aichi and Gifu, had been under consideration for an early exit.

But senior members of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s administration believed such a move would be premature considering data on the central Japan region.

Suga’s public support has dwindled amid criticism of the government’s sluggish pandemic response. A Kyodo News poll this month showed the approval rating for his Cabinet stood at 38.8 percent, down from 66.4 percent when he took office in September.

The government declared a state of emergency for the second time in Tokyo and adjacent Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures on Jan. 7, expanding it to Tochigi, Gifu, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka on Jan 13.

The initial end date of Feb 7 was extended by one month with the exception of Tochigi, which had seen its situation significantly improve.