Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Wednesday that remaining COVID-19 quasi-emergency measures in Tokyo and 17 prefectures will be lifted March 21, following a decrease in the number of new infections in the country.
The government declared a quasi-state of emergency in 36 of Japan’s 47 prefectures in January due to the spread of Omicron, with Tokyo and 17 of the prefectures seeing the measures extended twice beyond the deadlines.
Under a quasi-state of emergency, governors are allowed to shorten business hours and limit the serving of alcohol in the prefectures.
Kishida said that the end of the sixth wave of infections “has clearly come into sight,” as the country’s infection rate continues to decline. Tokyo recorded 10,221 new cases on Wednesday, down 13.6 percent from a week earlier.
“From now on, for the time being, it will be a period in which we bring back ordinary lives as much as possible while maintaining the maximum caution and ensuring safety and security,” he told reporters.
Professor Hitoshi Oshitani of Tohoku University, who is also a lead adviser on the government’s pandemic response, said that while the current Omicron wave is not over in Japan, the COVID-19 measures may no longer be effective at controlling public behavior.
“We need to have a different strategy to suppress the transmission at this stage,” Oshitani said. “It’s still premature to discuss a kind of exit strategy from this virus.”
Local media reported Tuesday that the government was considering further relaxing border controls and increasing the daily limit of overseas arrivals from the current 7,000 to 10,000 by April, but Kishida made no mention of this during the press conference.
Chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Feb. 28 that the government will gradually increase international traffic by reviewing “infection situations in Japan and abroad, as well as the demand of Japanese nationals returning.”
The Japanese government has been suspending new arrivals of foreign visitors since Nov. 30, 2021, to contain the spread of the Omicron variant, adopting the strictest border control measures among the Group of Seven developed economies nations.
The country’s vaccine booster program has also accelerated, with about 71 percent of its vulnerable elderly population having received the third dose. The government is reportedly considering offering a fourth vaccine dose for those who want to receive it as early as this summer.
A government official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that the government intends to use COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna if the plan to roll out the fourth dose is confirmed, Yomiuri Shimbun reported last week.
Reuters contributed to this report.