Japan seeks coronavirus "exit strategy"

Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said on Wednesday night that his government is trying to craft a so-called "exit strategy” from the coronavirus crisis. He said ministers will consult with experts on May 14, hear their views on infection rates and the state of health care systems, and consider whether they can lift the state of emergency.

But as the national government tries to come up with a roadmap, some local governments are devising their own.

In the northeastern prefecture of Iwate, the only prefecture in the country with no confirmed infections, local leaders had been asking people to avoid all unnecessary outings. Now they say they’ll rescind that request, but still ask people to stay within the prefecture.

It’s a similar story in the western prefecture of Tottori, where only three people have been confirmed infected. Officials are asking people to avoid crossing into other prefectures and to stay away from nightclubs.

Osaka sets its own terms

Osaka Governor Yoshimura Hirofumi said on Tuesday that the spread of the virus has slowed considerably thanks to the tremendous efforts of the people there over the past month. But he said the nationwide state of emergency has been extended nonetheless, so they need a clear target for easing restrictions. Since the central government failed to present one, his prefecture will offer an "Osaka model".

That model requires the number of new cases with unclear infection routes to drop below 10 per day. And the rate of positive results among people being tested would have to be under 7 percent. The third criteria is that the occupancy rate of hospital beds for patients with severe symptoms must stay under 60 percent.

All three conditions must be met for seven consecutive days. The Osaka government says it will determine on May 15 whether to gradually reopen businesses.

In Tokyo, which has seen about 5,000 confirmed infections, officials have decided to ask amusement facilities, restaurants and other establishments to stay closed or shorten their business hours through May 31.

At the same time, they are trying to come up with a roadmap to ease restrictions and address people's concerns over their future.

Governor Koike Yuriko said on Tuesday, "It is not easy to find the way out and we should never let down our guard or get caught napping. It is our responsibility to draw a roadmap for the future, balancing both human life and the economy".

The state of emergency gives prefectural governors more power to press residents and businesses to take precautionary measures, but it doesn’t oblige them to enact any changes. And three weeks in, some of those governors say they’re not waiting for national leaders to plot the course.