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Japan ends COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo region

A station passageway is crowded with commuters wearing face masks during a rush hour at Shinagawa Station on March 22, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan ended the COVID-19 state of emergency midnight Sunday in the Tokyo metropolitan region, the last remaining area of the country that had been under the measure since early January.

    The emergency in Tokyo and neighboring Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures was lifted despite concern that the country could see a resurgence as it gears up for the academic and business year, with cases of highly infectious variant strains continuing to rise.

    Local authorities will continue to ask restaurants and bars to close early until the end of March, while pushing back the time by an hour to 9 p.m. But as the requests are not legally binding outside of a state of emergency, there will not be any penalties for establishments that do not comply.

    The central government, which will expand testing and detection of the mutant strains, is aiming to avoid another state of emergency by progressing with vaccinations and strengthening medical systems.

    On an NHK television program Sunday, health minister Norihisa Tamura said the government was also considering requiring all inbound travelers to undergo tests for new variants of the coronavirus. The stricter border controls currently only apply to 24 designated countries where coronavirus variants have been detected.

    Attendance at large-scale events such as concerts and sports games will also be gradually eased following the lifting of the emergency. Numbers had been capped at half capacity up to a limit of 5,000, but this will be increased to 10,000.

    According to data compiled by mobile communications carrier NTT Docomo Inc., the number of people moving through 19 out of 20 key train stations and entertainment districts in Tokyo and the three neighboring prefectures as of 3 p.m. Sunday had decreased from a week earlier.

    Foot traffic also saw an overall decline in over 70 percent of 95 key locations across the country, with the rainy weather thought to have been a factor.

    On Saturday when the weather was better in many parts of the country, a similar survey by NTT Docomo showed the number of people went up from a week earlier at nearly half of the survey points, with all 20 points in the Tokyo region showing an increase.

    Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a one-month emergency in the Tokyo region on Jan. 7 amid a surge in infections, later expanding it to a total of 11 prefectures and extending it for most of them by another month, to March 7. It was further extended by two weeks to Sunday for the capital and the three neighboring prefectures.

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