Japan set to partially end COVID-19 state of emergency

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Japan will end a coronavirus state of emergency early in some regions as the pace of infection slows, reports said Friday, less than five months before the pandemic-postponed Tokyo Olympics.

The emergency measure -- currently in force in 10 regions including Tokyo -- is looser than the strict lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world, and primarily calls for bars and restaurants to close from 8pm.

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It is due to end on March 7, but the government will lift the measure this Sunday, just over a week early, in around six prefectures, the reports said.

The greater Tokyo area will stay under the measure as the pace of decline in new infections has slowed, the reports said.

Several prefectures have requested the state of emergency be lifted and the government will present a plan to do so before making a formal decision, top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

A formal announcement is expected later Friday with the measure ending Sunday.

Japan’s virus measures have been less strict than in other places, emphasizing mask-wearing and ventilation over tough lockdowns.

Earlier this month, parliament passed a new law adding enforcement measures including fines for businesses that do not close early. The new law took effect 10 days later.

Despite the recent spike, Japan has seen a comparatively small COVID-19 outbreak, with just over 7,700 deaths.

Japan launched its coronavirus vaccination program last week and has so far given first doses to around 22,000 healthcare workers.

Tokyo’s response to the virus is being closely watched around the world as doubts swirl over the postponed Tokyo Olympics, due to start July 23.

Organizers have outlined measures they say will keep the Games safe even without requiring participants to be vaccinated or quarantined on arrival.

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