Japan could end state of emergency for regions with stable virus cases

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan could lift a state-of-emergency in many regions this week if new coronavirus cases are under control, the economy minister said on Monday, as it inches towards a gradual return of economic activity.

The state of emergency, in place since last month, gives governors of the 47 prefectures stronger legal authority to urge people to stay at home and businesses to close, but there are no fines or arrests for non-compliance.

The government last week extended the emergency to the end of May, saying it would reassess the situation on May 14. Some non-essential businesses, even in the 13 hardest-hit prefectures designated “special alert districts”, including Tokyo and Osaka, have already reopened despite the extension.

Japan has avoided an explosive outbreak of the novel coronavirus, with some 15,800 domestic cases and 630 deaths. The number of new infections has been on a declining trend over the past week.

“We have been able to proceed steadily towards an end,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a parliamentary session, referring to the epidemic.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the government could lift the emergency this week in regions that have seen a notable improvement, even among the 13 hardest-hit prefectures, while warning that any reversal of the trend could change that.

“If signs of an overshoot emerge after the lifting, we would need to consider a re-implementation,” he said in parliament.

Abe has warned of a long battle against the virus and asked the public to continue practising social distancing. People would need to adopt a “new lifestyle” for the coronavirus era, he said, even after the state of emergency is lifted.

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