People in the Tokyo metropolitan region remained cautious Monday a day after it became the last area of Japan to exit the coronavirus state of emergency introduced in early January.
Some were worried that the lifting of the measure in Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures could lead to a rebound in the number of COVID-19 cases there. Others said they will continue to refrain from going out too much to prevent exposure to the virus.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government has now lifted the emergency nationwide despite concern the country could see a resurgence of infections as it gears up for the start of a new academic and business year in April, with cases of highly infectious variant strains continuing to rise.
Local authorities will continue to ask restaurants and bars to close early until the end of March, although at 9 p.m., an hour later than under the emergency.
But as such requests are not legally binding outside an emergency declaration, there will be no penalties for establishments that do not comply.
The extended hour has raised hope for an employee at an "izakaya" Japanese-style restaurant near Tokyo's Ueno Station who said it could make a difference in sales because customers can have more time to eat out after work.
Despite the lifting of the emergency, taxi driver Etsuro Sato said his situation is unlikely to improve as he waited to pick up customers at Tokyo Station on Monday morning.
"My fares have fallen to a third of pre-pandemic levels, and I haven't had as many passengers as I used to have," the 73-year-old said. "As long as telework and reduced business hours continue, my situation will not change."
Kazumune Kotera, a construction company employee commuting for a client meeting in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, also did not see much changing.
"Working from home is going to continue, and I will refrain from going outside unless there is business," said Kotera, a 56-year-old resident of Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo. "I won't change anything in my life."
A 38-year-old female company employee from Saitama Prefecture, which has the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 variants in the metropolitan area, was anxious about the prospect of the coming spring holidays leading to an increase in the number of people going out.
"I went to Tokyo this weekend and I was just surprised by the large number of people out and about there, which was far beyond my expectations," the woman said.
Shiori Yoshikawa, a 46-year-old company employee from Chiba city, said the government should come up with new virus countermeasures instead of repeatedly declaring and lifting states of emergency as cases increase.
While Ueno Station, a busy transport hub, was frequented by commuters, restaurants and bars in the area remained half empty.
Tadashi Matsui, a 32-year-old office worker who was among those on his way home, said he does not feel assured by the government announcement to end the emergency in the Tokyo area as the decline of infections has bottomed out.
"When the end of the declaration does not mean we are safe (from the virus), why would our actions be affected?" he said.
Even as concerns over a rebound in cases linger, some people in groups were having picnics and viewing the cherry blossoms at Ueno Park, one of the most popular venues in the capital for such activities, later in the day.
The Japan Meteorological Agency announced the same day that cherry blossoms in central Tokyo are now in full bloom.
"We should be able to freely enjoy an occasion like this as long as we take essential precautions," said 24-year-old Naohiro Sasakami, who has been working from home since early January and was visiting the park with friends.
The government, which will expand testing for mutant strains, is aiming to avoid another state of emergency by progressing with vaccinations and strengthening the medical system.
On an NHK television program Sunday, health minister Norihisa Tamura said the government was considering requiring all inbound travelers to undergo tests for new variants of the coronavirus.
The stricter border controls currently only apply to 24 designated countries where coronavirus variants have been detected.
Attendance at large-scale events such as concerts and sports games will also be gradually eased following the lifting of the emergency. Numbers had been capped at half of capacity up to a limit of 5,000, but the ceiling will be increased to 10,000.
Suga declared a one-month emergency in the Tokyo region on Jan. 7 amid a surge in infections, later expanding it to a total of 11 prefectures and extending it for most of them by another month, to March 7.
It was further extended by two weeks to Sunday for the capital and three neighboring prefectures.