Japan approaching end of COVID-19 emergency in most areas - health minister


FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, make their way at a shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, September 9, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's COVID-19 infection situation is improving such that emergency conditions could soon be lifted in most parts of the country, the health minister said on Friday.

Hospitalisation rates and patient bed availability will factor into whether the state of emergency prevailing over Tokyo and much of the country can be lifted at the end of this month, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told reporters.

"After hearing the opinions of experts, the Cabinet will make a final decision," he said.

The infectious Delta variant sparked a fifth wave of COVID-19 in Japan that drove infections to record levels last month. To prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, the government extended emergency restrictions covering about 80% of the population until the end of September.

The curbs have centred on asking restaurants to close early and refrain from serving alcohol. Residents are being urged to work from home as much as possible and refrain from travel.

The government is considering using checks of inoculation status or negative COVID-19 results as a means to ease restrictions on businesses and human mobility.

A demonstration project of a vaccine confirmation system will be carried out in 13 prefectures, Economy Minster Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday, according to the Jiji news service.

New daily cases in Tokyo have declined to about 550 in recent days, a tenth of their peak last month. At a meeting of health experts on Friday, Governor Yuriko Koike stressed the need to press on with inoculations, saying some 80% of COVID-19 fatalities in Tokyo since August were among the unvaccinated.

"If the number of new positive cases starts to increase, there is a fear that the healthcare system will be in a crisis situation again," she said.

(Reporting Rocky Swift in Tokyo; Editing by Michael Perry)

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