Japan PM lifts state of emergency, praises 'Japan model'

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TOKYO : Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lifted a state of emergency for Tokyo and four remaining areas yesterday after the number of infections fell across the country, but warned that it could be reimposed if the virus started spreading again.

Tokyo had eight new cases yesterday, media reports said.

The move means the whole country will have social distancing curbs loosened, after an initial lifting of restrictions for most areas on May 14.

Mr Abe said that the total amount of stimulus from two economic packages would exceed 200 trillion yen (S$2.6 trillion) but it would still take considerable time to get back to normal life while controlling infection risks.

"Today we are taking a firm step towards the next stage following the removal of the state of emergency," the visibly relaxed leader told reporters gathered in Tokyo.

Mr Abe acknowledged Japan has faced some problems with its response and promised a review once the outbreak was over. But he also praised the "Japan model", in which it brought the outbreak under control in six weeks without the strict lockdowns imposed in other countries.

However, he warned that, "in the worst case scenario, there may be the unfortunate possibility of reimposing the state of emergency if the speed of infections rises again", adding that he would like to avoid asking people to stay indoors.

Japan has escaped an explosive outbreak, with some 16,600 infections and 839 deaths so far, according to public broadcaster NHK. But the outbreak has tipped it into a recession and Mr Abe's popularity has plunged to multi-year lows.

An Asahi newspaper poll conducted at the weekend showed his support rate at 29 per cent - the lowest since he returned to power in late 2012 - and disapproval at 52 per cent. The results mirrored a Mainichi newspaper survey published on Saturday. - REUTERS