Japan has lifted its Covid-19 state of emergency as of midnight on Sunday, 22 March in Greater Tokyo, including the Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama prefectures, the last remaining area in the country that had been under the restriction since early January.
This comes in time for Japan's peak annual cherry blossom viewing season although flower-viewing parties will be forbidden this year, with popular spots already cordoned off and festivals either cancelled or scaled down. There will be no illuminations, and blossom viewing is restricted to masked up strolls in specific areas.
To prevent a fourth wave of outbreak, local authorities have requested food and drinking establishments to close early until the end of March, while pushing back the time by an hour to 9pm.
The government will also push ahead with vaccinations, strengthen medical systems and expand testing and detection of the mutant strains to avoid another state of emergency.
On an NHK television programme aired on Sunday, health minister Norihisa Tamura said the government was also considering requiring all inbound travellers to undergo tests for new variants of the coronavirus. The stricter border controls currently only apply to 24 designated countries where coronavirus variants have been detected.
Attendance at large-scale events such as concerts and sports games will also be gradually eased following the lifting of the emergency. Numbers had been capped at half capacity up to a limit of 5,000, but this will be increased to 10,000.
That said, the country has announced that foreign spectators will not be allowed at the Olympics, to avoid the risk of large crowds forming amid the pandemic. A pared-down Games means the government will not get the inbound boom it had long hoped for, as the tourism sector continues to reel from the impacts of the pandemic.
According to an executive economist at Nomura Research Institute, the overseas fan ban and other crowd restrictions at the Games could amount to losses of around 200 billion yen (US$1.8 billion).
The world’s third largest economy is looking to other ways to grow this year, from exports to government stimulus measures, after a GDP contraction of 4.8% last year, reported AFP.
Bolstered by the Rugby World Cup, Japan welcomed a record 31.9 million foreign visitors in 2019, and was on track to achieve its goal of 40 million in 2020 until the pandemic derailed all tourism goals.