TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and four other prefectures on Monday, ending seven weeks of economic restrictions and ushering in an uncertain “new normal.”
Although the country of 126 million has recorded over 16,000 infections and 800 deaths since the pandemic began, it has avoided a devastating outbreak like in the U.S. and elsewhere. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government called off the emergency in most regions earlier this month, and it is poised to do so for Tokyo and nearby Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures, as well as Hokkaido, after consulting with experts.
The capital has limited new cases to single digits on most of the past 10 days. The number of discharged patients has been steadily increasing, easing pressure on hospitals.
In recent days, Tokyo has been averaging about new four cases, below the government’s goal of 10.
The overall decline has been achieved despite the lack of a strict lockdown. Compliance with Japan’s emergency, initially declared on April 7, has been voluntary and nonbinding. But schools, department stores, shopping malls and movie theaters agreed to close, while many citizens have been working from home during the week and staying in on weekends. By and large, restaurants and bars either shut their doors or switched to takeout only, for shorter hours. Tokyo’s metropolitan government offered cash incentives for businesses that cooperated.
Now the city looks ready to rumble back to life. On Friday, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike presented a road map that calls for reopening in three stages.
Schools, gyms and museums are to reopen in the first phase. Restaurants will be asked to close at 10 p.m., rather than 8 p.m. Baseball games are to resume without spectators, while bowling alleys will also open. Social gatherings will have a green light but should be limited to 50 people.
In the second phase, retail stores handling nonessential items will reopen, along with cram schools and theaters. Gatherings will be expanded to 100 people.
The third stage will involve reopening confined locations such as internet cafes, game arcades and pachinko parlors. The recommended maximum attendance will rise to 1,000 people.
The city plans to wait up to two weeks before advancing to the next stages, and it will continue to monitor infections. There is no reopening schedule for music venues, karaoke bars and fitness clubs, many of which were responsible for coronavirus clusters.