Experts on Japan’s coronavirus task force on Thursday approved a government plan to lift a state of emergency in most areas ahead of schedule except for Tokyo and several other high-risk areas.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said after the task force met that the experts approved lifting the emergency in 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures. Emergency measures would remain for eight others, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido, where risks still remain high.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had declared the state of emergency on April 7 for Tokyo and six other urban prefectures and later expanded it to the whole country through May 31. With signs of the infections slowing, Abe is seeking to relax the measure while balancing disease prevention and the economy.
Japan now has more than 16,000 confirmed cases, with about 680 deaths. The number of new cases has significantly decreased nationwide.
Abe will explain details at a news conference later Thursday. Experts are also expected to provide the basis for easing the measure, as well as its possible tightening if there is a resurgence.
Ehime prefecture in western Japan, where an outbreak in a hospital has infected about 20 nurses, patients and their families, will have the state of emergency lifted on the condition containment measures are taken and the infections are closely investigated, Nishimura said.
Experts and officials have urged people to adopt “new lifestyles” and continue practicing physical distancing measures such as remote-working and avoid out-of-town trips even after the state of emergency is lifted.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— WUHAN TESTING UNDERWAY: Some residential compounds in Wuhan have begun testing inhabitants for the coronavirus as a program to test everyone in the Chinese city of 11 million people in 10 days got underway. One compound in the city’s Qiaokou district said several hundred people had been tested since Wednesday. Another compound in the same district said Thursday it was registering residents before starting. The city ordered local communities to test everyone after six new cases surfaced last weekend, the first infections there in more than a month. Wuhan, where the virus was first detected last December, was the hardest-hit city in China with 3,869 reported deaths. China reported three new cases nationwide for 82,929 cases in total.
— WHO SAYS NATIONS MUST REMAIN VIGILANT: A World Health Organization official said the debate between protecting health and reviving economies is a “false dichotomy” and that countries must remain vigilant as they lift restrictions. Takeshi Kasai, WHO’s Western Pacific director, said Thursday the reopening of economies shouldn’t be rushed and must be done cautiously. He said the world must “create a new normal in which we don’t have to choose between health and livelihood.” Kasai said countries must strengthen their health systems and have measures in place for early detection, isolation and contact tracing, and ensure they are ready for the possibility of a large-scale community outbreak.
— INDIA CONSIDERING ARMY CHANGES: The Indian army is considering a proposal to offer civilians a voluntary three-year term of military service, news agency Press Trust of India reported. The proposal being considered is seen as an answer to unemployment as well as a shift from permanent military service toward a temporary experience. Also, the home ministry has asked all Central Armed Police Forces to sell only Indian-made goods in their canteen store departments, an effort that is seen to promote local products under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s mission of a self-reliant India. The ministry also appealed to Indians to use products made in the country. India has more than 78,000 coronavirus cases.
— AUSTRALIA PUSHING INQUIRY: Australia says it will continue to push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus even if it hurts trade relations with China. Prime Minister Scott Morrison had been accused of playing “deputy sheriff” to the United States after calling for the inquiry. But he brushed off the criticism. “We have always been independent, we have always pursued our national interests, and we always will,” he told reporters. China has suspended beef imports from four abattoirs and plans to impose tariffs on Australian barley, after warning the inquiry could harm two-way trade ties.
— TYPHOON PREP IN PHILIPPINES: A strong typhoon roared toward the eastern Philippines as authorities worked to evacuate tens of thousands of people safely during the virus lockdown. The typhoon is expected to slam ashore later Thursday. The lockdown to fight the coronavirus requires people to stay home and prohibits all kinds of gatherings that can set off infections. Governors say social distancing will be nearly impossible for residents who must flee to emergency shelters. Some shelters are now quarantine facilities, and they may have to be turned back into storm shelters.
— NEW CASES IN SOUTH KOREA: South Korea has confirmed 29 more coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours as it battles a spike linked to nightlife spots in Seoul. The additional cases reported by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pushed the national total to 10,991 with 260 deaths. Most of the new cases were people infected locally while three came from overseas. South Korea’s caseload has climbed in the past week, with new cases linked to nightclubs in Seoul’s entertainment Itaewon district threatening South Korea’s hard-won progress in containing the virus.
— NEW ZEALAND REOPENING: Malls, retail stores and restaurants reopened in New Zealand, and many people returned to their workplaces after a lockdown ended at midnight. Most gatherings will be limited to 10 people and social distancing guidelines will remain in place. Most New Zealand schools will reopen Monday but bars won’t reopen until May 21, a decision prompted in part by the spike in South Korea tied to Seoul nightlife establishments.