All national dailies wrote that Prime Minister Abe elected to end the state of emergency for the Tokyo metropolitan area even though it was scheduled to last through the end of May in view of rapid economic deceleration and mounting public criticism of his measures to deal with the pandemic, such as the provision of “Abenomasks” and cash handout program. Although the rate of new cases in Hokkaido and Kanagawa did not clear the government-set criterion of less than 0.5 per 100,000 people in the preceding week, Abe decided to lift the emergency based on the assessment that hospital capacity in those prefectures is not overwhelmed. He stressed that the number of new cases has dropped steadily and fewer than 2,000 people are currently hospitalized nationwide, down substantially from nearly 10,000 patients about a month ago.
The premier reportedly decided to lift the state of emergency sooner rather than later in the hope of easing public discontent. While quoting Abe as telling the press yesterday: “The country needs to change its approach from not holding events to figuring out how to hold events while reducing the risk of infection,” Mainichi expressed the view that this remark reflects his policy of prioritizing economic recovery over infectious disease control. Yomiuri projected that the administration will be criticized heavily if another outbreak occurs in the near future. Asahi said some epidemiologists on the GOJ’s coronavirus taskforce were displeased with the decision to lift the emergency at this stage, quoting one of them as saying: “The decision was made by politicians, not experts.” Nikkei wrote that Abe had been extremely keen to swiftly lift the emergency for the Tokyo metropolitan area following the finding on May 18 that Japan’s GDP shrank by 3.4% in the first quarter of this year. Sankei opined that rapidly expanding the nation’s PCR diagnostic testing capacity will be indispensable for striking a balance between full-fledged business activities and infectious disease control.