TOKYO: Japan will lift a COVID-19 state of emergency in all regions on Thursday (Sep 30) as the number of new cases falls and the strain on the medical system eases, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.
The plan takes Japan as a whole out of an emergency state for the first time in nearly six months.
"The daily new cases came down from more than 25,000 in mid-August to 1,128 yesterday ... the number of patients with serious conditions has been on a downtrend after peaking in early September," Suga told a coronavirus task force meeting.
"Thanks to progress in vaccination and administration of neutralising antibody drugs, we are entering a phase where medical services can be offered in a stable manner even if a certain degree of infections take place," he added.
"Hospital bed occupancy rates in all regions have come down below 50 per cent. The number of severely sick people peaked in early September and continues to fall."
Earlier in the day, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said some limitations on eateries and large-scale events would remain in place for about a month after the lifting of the state of emergency to prevent a resurgence in cases.
"New cases will undoubtedly rise after the emergency state is lifted," Nishimura, who also oversees Japan's coronavirus response.
"We need to continue with the necessary measures to prevent a rebound," he said, adding that if cases surged again, reinstatement of a more limited "quasi emergency" was possible.
Restaurants in areas under emergency curbs are now required to close by 8pm and not serve alcohol.
Nishimura said the government would introduce a certification system whereby only approved restaurants could stay open until 9pm, although the ban on alcohol would be lifted everywhere unless prefectural governors objected.
Like many other countries, Japan had struggled to contain the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant - including through the Summer Olympic Games - keeping much of the country under emergency restrictions.
The nation's vaccine programme got off to a slow start but has picked up speed, with 58 per cent of the population now fully inoculated, more than the United States. The Japanese government has said that all those who want shots will have had them by November.
Suga's approval ratings have taken a battering since he took office in September 2020, and he is stepping down after just a year as prime minister.
His unpopularity partly stems from the government's pandemic response, with on-off emergency measures and other restrictions in place throughout his term.