By Sakura Murakami
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan may lift its state of emergency in more regions this week as new coronavirus infections drop, the Asahi newspaper said on Tuesday, moving to resume sorely needed activity in the world’s third-largest economy, battered by containment measures.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe freed 39 of Japan’s 47 prefectures last week from a blanket state of emergency, while urging people to adopt a “new lifestyle” of social distancing and guard against a possible spike.
This week, the government could drop the western prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from the list of eight remaining ones, while maintaining curbs on Hokkaido, Tokyo, and those around them, the paper said, citing an anonymous government source.
Like other world leaders, Abe faces pressure to balance protection of public health with avoiding the collapse of the economy, which is facing its worst postwar slump.
First-quarter data on Monday showed Japan slipped into recession for the first time in 4-1/2 years, as the virus ravages businesses and consumers.
With much of Japan now freed from the emergency, coffee chain Starbucks re-opened about 850 stores on Tuesday, including some offering only takeout in the prefectures still under curbs. Among other businesses, Toho Cinemas said it would reopen 23 more theatres on Friday.
The Japan Sumo Association is also exploring prospects of resuming a summer tournament in July, it said, after cancelling a tournament originally set to start on Sunday.
Its decisions would take into account the results of antibody tests begun on Monday for members, including wrestlers and referees, the association added.
The ancient Japanese sport has been hit especially hard by the virus, with several organisation members testing positive, as well as the death last week of a 28-year-old wrestler.
(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html in an external browser.)
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim and Clarence Fernandez)