The Japanese government has announced that it will be lifting the nation’s Covid state of emergency at the end of this weekend, moving back to regular business as of Monday.
The latest state of emergency lasted for about two months, but never covered the entire country. At the outset, it applied to most of the major urban prefectures, but has gradually been narrowed in geographical scope over the past month. Currently, it applies only to the Tokyo metropolitan region, the main epicenter of the pandemic.
The Covid state of emergency of early 2021 was even weaker than that of spring 2020 in terms of its burdens. Far from a total lockdown, the state of emergency manifested itself mainly in exhortations to businesses to close in the early evening and for the general public to take extra precautions. Primarily, it was about putting a damper on nightlife and evening parties.
Even pachinko parlors, which came in for heavy criticism for defying gubernatorial closure requests last year, were largely untouched. They didn’t become an issue of controversy because they were not asked to suspend business this time around.
The strictest component relates to various restrictions on international arrivals, and these remain in place despite the official end of the emergency.
The emergency may have had a major impact on the number of new Covid cases, as there are now far fewer patients than in January or early February. This was the period in which both case numbers and fatalities reached their worst intensity in Japan.
Nevertheless, the lifting of the emergency at this juncture is not without controversy. Since the early part of this month, the daily number of new cases stopped declining, and in fact it may be modestly rising again.
Critics say that there is therefore no scientific justification to ease up at this moment. They worry that lifting restrictions at this juncture could simply lead to a fourth wave, especially as Covid variants are gaining a foothold in the country.
Japan has begun the process of vaccinations, but it is moving more slowly than in most other advanced countries.