Photo/Illutration Kobe’s popular Chinatown in the Nankinmachi district prepares for the Chinese New Year under the state of emergency on Feb. 8. (Yoshinori Mizuno)

Three governors of the Kansai region on Feb. 23 urged the central government to end the COVID-19 state of emergency for their prefectures earlier than the scheduled deadline of March 7.

The government was already considering an early lifting of the state of emergency at the end of the month for those three prefectures, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto, as well as for Aichi, Gifu and Fukuoka prefectures.

A final decision will be made as early as Feb. 26, government sources said.

If granted, only Tokyo and the neighboring prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama would remain under the state of emergency.

The Kansai governors, in an online meeting with Yasutoshi Nishimura, the central government’s point man in dealing with the pandemic, said they have devised measures to keep novel coronavirus infections down if they are removed from the state of emergency.

“It is ultimately a decision for the central government,” Nishimura said at the meeting, according to Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura. “We will make a judgment after considering the infection situation and listening to experts’ opinions.” 

The governors told Nishimura that restrictions on restaurants and bars will be gradually eased after the state of emergency ends. 

They also asked the central government to continue to shoulder its share of the 40,000 yen ($380) per day being paid to businesses that comply with requests to shorten their operating hours after the state of emergency is lifted. The central and local governments are currently paying 60,000 yen per day to these businesses. 

“It is important to seek ways to strike a balance between anti-infection measures and socio-economic activities,” Yoshimura said.

Kyoto Governor Takatoshi Nishiwaki said: “Having a rebound in infections is the worst possible thing. We need to ease restrictions gradually.” 

Meetings of related Cabinet members and experts on the health ministry’s advisory board will be held on Feb. 24. Experts on the central government’s advisory panel are expected to discuss the issue as early as Feb. 26. 

The government’s headquarters on dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic will then make a decision on the state of emergency.

Experts on the central government’s advisory panel have said the number of new infection cases and the burden on the health care system, among other factors, have improved in the six prefectures. 

One panel member, however, said it is important to discuss “what measures should be taken after the state of emergency is lifted.” 

The central government’s expert committee on dealing with the pandemic has started drafting a plan to keep the number of new infection cases low after the end of the state of emergency. 

The plan is expected to include a gradual easing of restrictions on restaurants and bars, such as shortened operating hours. It will also likely mention that certain targeted areas, rather than an entire prefecture, may be placed under these restrictions. 

The central government uses a four-stage system for six barometers to determine the novel coronavirus situation in a given area. 

For a lifting of the state of emergency, a prefecture's infection situation must be improved at least stage 3, one level down from the most serious stage. 

Some prefectures, including Osaka, have met the condition.