The Japanese government said on Friday it would end a state of emergency in all but Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures at the end of this month, a week earlier than scheduled, as new coronavirus cases decline.
Japan had placed 11 of its 47 prefectures under a state of emergency last month as a third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic swept the nation. One of those prefectures, Tochigi, has already emerged early from the restrictions.
Emergency coronavirus measures will now be removed in Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Gifu and Fukuoka prefectures, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters after a meeting of the government's advisory panel, which approved the move.
"But the lifting comes with conditions," Nishimura said, adding that experts on the panel wanted close monitoring of the spread of new strains of the virus and a sufficient supply of hospital beds.
They also expressed concern about a potential resurgence in cases as restrictions are eased, warning against complacency, he said.
"Especially with young people, there was concern that the lifting would have a psychological impact," said Nishimura, who oversees the government's coronavirus response.
"We need to keep strict anti-infection measures in place."
Under emergency measures, Japan asks bars and restaurants to close by 8 p.m. and companies to strive for more telecommuting. It also suspended a popular "Go To Travel" subsidised domestic tourism programme.
Coronavirus infections have fallen significantly since peaking in early January, including in the capital, Tokyo, which is due to host the Summer Olympic Games from late July. The government is hoping to lift the state of emergency in the remaining four prefectures as planned on March 7.
Japan has recorded about 427,000 coronavirus cases and 7,720 deaths as of Thursday, according to the health ministry.