Freedom blossoms in Tokyo
The Japanese government will lift the coronavirus state of emergency for Summer Olympics host city Tokyo on Sunday as planned, despite concerns about a recent climb in infections.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government decided on Thursday that there was no need to extend the state of emergency, which was imposed in January, because infections have declined overall and the strain on the city's health system has eased.
However, some experts warn that while Tokyo has managed to reduce the rate of new infections, the decline has levelled off and could rise again.
One concern is cherry blossom season, which has just begun in Tokyo. Japanese traditionally gather together under the thousands of trees bursting with pink blooms, often with plenty of food and alcohol.
Tokyo hosts the Olympic and Paralympic competitions starting in July, but the ceremonial torch relay begins next week. The games had been originally set for 2020 but were postponed by a year due to the pandemic.
Japan has come through the pandemic much better than many other countries. Nevertheless, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike had expressed concern that an end to the state of emergency could lead to a renewed increase in cases.
Indeed, the number of new infections in Tokyo rose to more than 400 for the first time in a month, with 409 cases on Wednesday.
The opposition criticised the government's decision as premature. Suga is seeking to help the battered economy, though he said on Thursday it was "extremely important" that citizens continue to be mindful.
The state of emergency has not meant a lockdown: Restaurants and bars are not to serve alcohol from 7pm and close as early as 8pm. Citizens are called upon to stay at home and, above all, not to go out after 8pm. Companies are encouraged to allow home work. A maximum of 5,000 spectators are still allowed at major cultural and sports events.