Japan to lift virus state of emergency in Tokyo area

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Despite a spike in infections this winter, Japan has seen a comparatively small outbreak overall

Japan will lift a virus state of emergency in the Tokyo area, the prime minister said Wednesday, less than five months before the postponed Tokyo Olympics are due to begin.

Yoshihide Suga said the measure would not be extended past Sunday, when it is due to end, because indicators including daily new cases and hospital bed occupancy "pointed towards lifting the state of emergency".

The official decision to end the state of emergency -- which requests restaurants and bars to close by 8:00 pm -- will be made after talks with experts on Thursday, Suga said.

Despite a spike in infections this winter, Japan has seen a comparatively small outbreak overall with around 8,700 deaths, and has avoided imposing the blanket lockdowns seen in other countries.

The state of emergency in Tokyo and neighbouring Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures was extended in early March, with Suga urging the public to avoid eating in large groups at cherry-blossom parties to stop a rebound in infections.

The decision to lift the measure comes just days before the nationwide Olympic torch relay kicks off in northeastern Fukushima on March 25.

But some healthcare professionals are concerned about the move, as the number of cases in Tokyo is rising -- with 409 cases recorded on Wednesday, the highest since mid-February.

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