Japan to lift Covid state of emergency as leadership contest looms

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Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to choose a replacement next week before the elections in November as Prime Minister Suga is set to step down  (Getty Images)
Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to choose a replacement next week before the elections in November as Prime Minister Suga is set to step down (Getty Images)

Japan is set to lift coronavirus-related restrictions this week as the number of new infections are on the decline and the government has planned to bolster the economy in view of upcoming elections.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced on Tuesday that his government has decided to end the emergency measures by Thursday in all regions.

“Thanks to progress in vaccination and administration of neutralising antibody drugs, we are entering a phase where medical services can be offered in a stable manner even if a certain degree of infections take place,” Mr Suga said during a coronavirus task force meeting.

The end of those measures will be gradual, according to the officials, while some new rules will be introduced, including vaccine passports and virus tests, to contain the spread of the infection.

“Lifting of the emergency doesn’t mean we are 100 per cent free,” Shigeru Omi, a top medical adviser for the government, told the Associated Press. “The government should send a clear message to the people that we can only relax gradually.”

Economy and fiscal minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of Covid-19 measures, said eateries and other commercial establishments will return to normal hours gradually.

Japan is reporting around 1,500 to 3,500 cases a day, a decline since the peak in August when there were around 25,000 daily infections. On Monday, Japan reported 1,128 new cases.

Emergency restrictions such as limited timings for bars and pubs were enforced in April when infections started surging. Japan did not take the route of more stringent measures like a complete lockdown, which was enforced in many other countries, even though it has recorded about 1.69 million Covid cases and 17,500 deaths.

The restrictions were extended several times since due to the spread of the delta virus and a rebound in infections after June.

However, the government’s resolve to end measures now is being linked to the elections in November and the mounting pressure to show an effective Covid strategy.

Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to choose a replacement on Wednesday after Prime Minister Suga announced earlier in September he would step down. His approval ratings have taken a battering, partly due to his handling of the Covid crisis as well as choosing to proceed with the Tokyo Olympics during a pandemic.

Additional reporting by agencies

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