The Japanese government decided Thursday to lift the COVID-19 quasi-state of emergency in three prefectures after this weekend, having deemed infections are steadily declining and the strain on hospitals has eased.
Restrictions in Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto, including a ban on restaurants serving alcohol and requiring them to close by 8 p.m. as well as a 5,000-person attendance cap at events, will be lifted at the end of Sunday as scheduled.
A government task force headed by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is traveling to Britain from Thursday evening to attend a Group of Seven summit, finalized the decision after getting approval from an expert panel.
"We will continue to monitor the infection situation and the strain on the medical system, placing top priority on protecting the lives and health of the people," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference.
The government will wait until next week to make a similar call on five other prefectures -- Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gifu and Mie -- that are under the quasi-state of emergency until June 20.
Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto have been under the restrictions, which are similar to those under a full-fledged state of emergency but with smaller fines for noncompliance, since May 16.
Infections across Japan have been declining, with the nationwide tally of new coronavirus cases at 2,242 on Wednesday, down from 6,000-7,000 daily in early May.
Suga, meanwhile, is rushing to ramp up the vaccine rollout with the Tokyo Olympics kicking off in a little over a month and a general election taking place by the fall.
But 10 prefectures including Tokyo and Osaka remain under the state of emergency, also until June 20, as concerns mount over the spread of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus first discovered in Britain and India.
The capital reported 439 new infections on Thursday, bringing its seven-day rolling average to 391.7, the first time it has fallen below 400 in more than two months.