The government formally decided Thursday to lift all remaining coronavirus quasi-state of emergency curbs in Japan as scheduled next week as the number of new infections has recently been on a downtrend.

Tokyo and the nearby prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama are among the 18 areas that will see the restrictions end on Monday. Other areas include Aichi, Osaka and Kyoto.


With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the virus from the beginning of the year, the number of prefectures subject to the curbs expanded to 36 at one point. The remaining 18 have seen the deadlines of the measures extended twice.

With the lifting, the country will be free of such measures for the first time since Jan. 8.

But as concerns remain about the contagious BA.2 subvariant, which could cause a resurgence of the virus and pressure the medical system, opposition parties have said it is premature to completely eliminate the restrictions.

The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan said in a statement that people may consider the lifting as a "safety declaration," warning infections could rebound especially as social exchanges normally increase around April when a new business and school year starts in Japan.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday there will still be a transition period during which people should take maximum caution against infections.

The quasi-state of emergency has allowed governors to request that restaurants and bars close early and stop serving alcohol. It is more limited in terms of coverage and restrictions than a full state of emergency.

"The number of new coronavirus cases is trending downward and the strain on hospitals is easing," said Hitoshi Kikawada, senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office, about the 18 prefectures.

"It is important to maintain and reinforce the medical response while working on the recovery of social economic activities," he added.

As part of efforts toward normalizing such activities, the government plans to no longer require companies to identify close contacts with coronavirus patients at workplaces if they have implemented measures to prevent the spread of infections.

The latest decision to lift all quasi-emergency curbs also comes in line with new government guidelines, which state such steps can be ended when the strain on the health care system is expected to ease despite infection numbers staying at high levels.

People wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus walk in Tokyo's Shimbashi area on March 16, 2022. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

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