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Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo prefectures to ask gov't to lift coronavirus emergency early

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura. (Mainichi)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Three Japanese prefectures of Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo are set to ask the central government to lift a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic in the western areas at the end of the month, ahead of its end date on March 7, officials said Monday.

    The governors of the prefectures will hold an online meeting Tuesday with economic revitalization minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is leading the country's response to the pandemic.

    The governor of another prefecture, Aichi in central Japan, said he has already made a similar request with the central government.

    The state of emergency, Japan's second on the pandemic, was initially declared on Jan. 7 for one month, covering 11 prefectures that also include Tokyo and its nearby prefectures. It was later extended through March 7 for 10 of the prefectures.

    Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike is cautious about lifting the emergency declaration in the capital, which is still seeing a "severe" infection situation.

    Koike also said she is planning to hold an online meeting Tuesday with the governors of the three nearby prefectures of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa.

    Kyoto, Osaka and other prefectures aiming to have the emergency lifted have cited improvements in the number of hospital beds available for COVID-19 patients and the slowing pace of infections.

    "New cases of infection have remained at double-digit levels for days. (The state of emergency) should be lifted at the end of this month as we expect the number of hospitalized patients to fall further," Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura said at a press conference.

    Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said his prefecture would discuss coordinated anti-virus measures with neighboring Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures Tuesday before filing their official requests. Gifu Prefecture, adjacent to Aichi, also suggested it would follow suit.

    Kyoto Gov. Takatoshi Nishiwaki said that even if the state of emergency is lifted, the prefecture would continue to ask restaurants and bars to shorten business hours.

    Japan has seen a decline in daily novel coronavirus infections but health ministry officials said last week the reduction was not sufficient to ease concern about the strain on the medical system.

    Tokyo, which remains the hardest hit of Japan's 47 prefectures, has seen a decrease in new cases with 178 reported Monday, the first time the count has fallen below 200 since Nov. 24 last year.

    The tally lifted the Japanese capital's cumulative cases to 109,912.

    The rate of infections among elderly people, considered at higher risk of developing severe symptoms, has been rising, however, with daily deaths in the capital often totaling double digits.

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