Japan set to lift coronavirus emergency as cases slow

Japan was poised to lift its nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus on Monday, gradually reopening the world’s third-biggest economy after new cases slowed to a crawl.

Compared to hard-hit areas in Europe, the United States, Russia and Brazil, Japan has been spared the worst of the pandemic, with 16,581 cases in total and 830 deaths.

Yet with infections threatening to run out of control, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared an initial state of emergency for Tokyo and six other regions on April 7 — later expanding it to cover the entire country.

Businesses and schools were urged to shut and people were requested to remain home but Japan’s “lockdown” was far softer than in other parts of the world and there was no punishment for anyone flouting the rules.

Citizens largely heeded the orders, with most of Tokyo’s famously packed streets falling quiet, and the number of new infections has fallen from a peak of around 700 per day to just a few dozen nationally.

There does not appear to be one single reason why the pandemic has hit Japan less hard than other comparable countries, and trying to pinpoint possible causes has become a favourite sport on social media.

High levels of hygiene and general health, removing shoes indoors, widespread masks, bowing as a greeting rather than shaking hands or kissing: all have been advanced as possible reasons but analysts agree there has been no silver bullet. (AFP)

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