Tokyo, Feb. 23 (Jiji Press)–The Japanese government faces increasing uncertainty about whether it will be able to fully lift its COVID-19 pre-emergency measures across the country when they expire on March 6 due to continued strains on health care services.
The pre-emergency measures are currently in place in Tokyo and 30 other prefectures after they were removed in five prefectures on Sunday. The government hopes to end the measures completely on March 6 to highlight the reopening of the economy across the country.
Some public health experts say that the sixth COVID-19 wave driven by the omicron variant has passed its peak, but the health care system remains under stress.
The occupancy rate of hospital beds for COVID-19 patients stayed above 50 pct in 19 of the 31 prefectures as of Monday, surpassing 80 pct in Osaka and Fukuoka.
The country’s daily COVID-19 death toll hit a record high of 322 on Tuesday. Another matter of concern is the spread of community infections with the BA.2 omicron subvariant.
The pre-emergency measures “will have to be extended in some prefectures,” a government source said. “It may be difficult to remove the measures altogether on March 6,” another government source said.
The government is also unlikely to lift the pre-emergency measures in some prefectures before March 6.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a press conference on Thursday that it is possible not to wait until March 6 to lift the pre-emergency measures. The government had planned to decide this week to remove them if requested by prefectures.
But prefectural officials are reluctant to request such an early removal of the measures. Economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa, who is in charge of the government’s COVID-19 response, said at a press conference Tuesday that there is no need to remove the measures in a rush. “We need a cautious approach.”