The state of emergency Japan set up to curb the spread of the coronavirus is set to be lifted in six urban areas this weekend.
A government minister said measures would remain in the Tokyo area for another week.
The partial lifting of the emergency underlines Japan’s eagerness to keep business restrictions to a minimum to keep the economy going.
The state of emergency, which began in January, centres around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to close at 8pm.
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 south-western Fukuoka.
Tokyo and surrounding Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures will continue to observe the emergency measures 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 jabs for months.
Concerns remain that lifting the emergency too quickly sends the wrong message, when hospitals in some areas are packed.
Shigeru Omi, a doctor who sits on a government panel of coronavirus experts, warned that caution is still required.
“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 badly affected 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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