All national dailies led with reports on the GOJ’s decision on Thursday to lift its state of emergency for 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, effective immediately. The 39 prefectures include the 34 prefectures not designated as areas that warrant special attention as well as Ibaraki, Ishikawa, Gifu, Aichi, and Fukuoka. Tokyo and its neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba, and Saitama will remain under a state of emergency along with Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Hokkaido.
Prime Minister Abe held a news conference following the GOJ decision and said the status of the eight prefectures still under a state of emergency will be reviewed on May 21 and the government will decide whether to lift it before May 31 after hearing the opinions of experts. The 39 prefectures for which the state of emergency was lifted have decided to relax their requests for businesses to limit their operations. Osaka also plans to remove its business suspension requests in phases starting on Saturday even though it remains under a state of emergency. Such facilities as restaurants, department stores, shopping malls, movie theatres, and museums are expected to gradually open in places where the emergency has been lifted. However, the government is calling on businesses to take preventive measures against the coronavirus based on industry-specific guidelines. Abe said about 80 industries, including restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, railway services, and airlines, have set their own guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus.
Abe also said the government may declare a state of emergency again in the event of a second wave of infections. The premier called on people to continue to avoid traveling across prefectural borders and to continue efforts to minimize people-to-people contact through social distancing and other measures. Abe said Japan is embarking on an extremely difficult challenge to continue preventing the spread of infection while moving toward fully resuming economic and social activities.
Nikkei argued that increasing the number of PCR tests and strengthening the medical system, including increasing the number of hospitals beds for seriously ill patients, are the most pressing issues for Japan in preparing for the possibility of a second wave of infections. Mainichi speculated that the GOJ wanted to lift the state of emergency for as many prefectures as possible to mitigate concern over the pandemic’s impact on the economy. Asahi wrote that while economic activity will gradually resume in 39 prefectures, many economists assume that economic recovery will take time because many people will likely continue to voluntarily avoid nonessential outings and stores may not fully reopen for a while.