Photo/Illutration The Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine area in Fukuoka Prefecture is crowded over the long weekend that started on Sept. 18. (Minako Yoshimoto)

The COVID-19 state of emergency for 19 prefectures is scheduled to end on Sept. 30, but some government officials are skeptical about a blanket lifting of the measures.

An official decision will be made at a government task force meeting early next week.

The novel coronavirus situation has improved across Japan, but some areas of concern remain.

Okinawa and Aichi prefectures, for example, are still struggling to handle the many COVID-19 patients who need to stay in hospitals or accommodation facilities.

“It will be difficult to lift the emergency declaration there if the situation does not improve,” a government official said.

The government has shifted the focus from infection numbers to medical care capacity in determining if a state of emergency should be declared.

“We will put more importance on the strained levels of hospitals than before, and will make a decision that also takes into account vaccination rates, the number of patients with serious symptoms, bed occupancy rates and other factors,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said at a Sept. 21 news conference.

Even if the state of emergency is lifted, pre-emergency measures will likely be imposed, extending restrictions on people’s behavior and movement.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga plans to visit the United States between Sept. 23 and 26. After returning home, he will meet with Cabinet members involved in COVID-19 issues as early as Sept. 27 and decide on what to do about the state of emergency.

If a government panel of experts approves the plan, the decision will be made official at the task force meeting.

The public has shown a weariness of seeing states of emergency imposed, lifted and then soon reinstated as soon as the next surge in infections occurs.

Experts are concerned that the sixth infection wave could hit in winter when windows of homes and offices are closed, decreasing ventilation in the buildings.

“We have not fully understood why new COVID-19 cases have dropped lately,” said a government official involved in Japan’s response to the pandemic. “It is still difficult to decide on anti-virus measures when new infection cases could soar from now.”