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Japan partly ending pandemic emergency, keeps it for Tokyo


              People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus run along a pedestrian crossing Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Tokyo. The Japanese capital confirmed more than 340 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
People wearing protective masks to help curb the spread of the coronavirus run along a pedestrian crossing Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Tokyo. The Japanese capital confirmed more than 340 new coronavirus cases on Thursday. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (AP) — The state of emergency Japan set up to curb the spread of the coronavirus will be lifted in six urban areas this weekend and remain in the Tokyo area for another week, a government minister said Friday.

Partially lifting the emergency, and just a week early, underlines Japan’s eagerness to keep business restrictions to a minimum to keep the economy going.

The emergency, which began in January, centers around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to close at 8 p.m.

Japan has never had a lockdown, but has managed to keep infections relatively low, with deaths related to COVID-19 at about 7,600 people so far.

Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of pandemic measures, told a special government panel that the emergency would be lifted in Aichi, Gifu, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo, central Japan, as well as southwestern Fukuoka.

Tokyo and surrounding Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa Prefectures will continue to observe the emergency until March 7, although an official decision has not yet been announced.

Worries have been growing because the pace of deaths has shot up since late last year. The vaccine rollout has barely begun, and the general population is not expected to get the shots for months.

Concern remains that lifting the emergency too quickly sends the wrong message, when hospitals in some areas are packed.

Shigeru Omi, a medical doctor who sits on a government panel of coronavirus experts, warned caution was still needed.

“The spread of infections has definitely lessened, but the pace of the drop appears to be reaching a halt,” he told Parliament on Friday.

Since last year, the Japanese economy has been slammed by the drop in consumption, tourism, exports and manufacturing.

Schools are open, and some commuter trains are still crowded. But people are encouraged to work from home, and almost everyone is wearing masks.

Worries about health risks have raised doubts about the Tokyo Olympics, postponed from last year and set to start in July. Officials have said the Games are on, even if the vaccination effort is not completed.

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Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter: https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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