BANGKOK (AP) — Japan’s government is holding a coronavirus task force meeting Thursday to get experts’ approval on a plan to lift a state of emergency in most areas except Tokyo and other high-risk areas ahead of schedule.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared the emergency on April 7 in Tokyo and six other urban prefectures and later expanded it to the whole country through May 31. With signs of infections slowing, Abe is seeking to relax the measure while balancing disease prevention and the economy.
His government plans to lift the state of emergency in 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures, while maintaining it in eight prefectures, including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hokkaido.
Japan has more than 16,000 confirmed cases of infection, with about 680 deaths from COVID-19. The number of new cases being reported daily has significantly decreased.
Abe will explain details of changing the emergency status at a news conference later Thursday.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, in his opening remarks at the task force meeting, asked experts to give details on how the emergency would be eased, as well as how it might be tightened if cases resurge.
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:
— 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 reported Thursday were 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.
— CHINA MOVES TOWARD REOPENING: China on Thursday reported three new coronavirus cases as the country increasingly moves to reopen business and schools. The National Health Commission said 101 people remain in treatment for COVID-19, while 716 were under isolation and monitoring for being suspected cases or for having tested positive for the virus without showing symptoms. China plans to restart classes for most students on June 1, with other grades to resume at a later date depending on conditions. No announcements have been made on when university classes will resume. China has reported 4,633 deaths among 82,929 cases of the virus.
— NEW ZEALAND REOPENING: Malls, retail stores and restaurants were reopening in New Zealand, and many people were returning to their workplaces. 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 experience in South Korea, where a spike in cases was linked to briefly reopened nightlife spots in Seoul.