TOKYO, May 15 (Xinhua) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday the nation should be prepared for a long battle against the coronavirus pandemic, warning that the virus still remained a significant threat and preventative measures should be maintained.
The Japanese leader said that even though the state of emergency had been lifted for the majority of prefectures, the virus will remain a threat until a vaccine is developed and people should be prepared for further waves of the virus and the possibility of a long battle ahead.
Abe's remarks, made at a plenary session of the upper house of parliament, came a day after the central government lifted a nationwide state of emergency for 39 of Japan's 47 prefectures, while easing restrictions for the eight remaining prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, will be considered next week.
The prefectures remaining under the state of emergency comprise urban areas such as Tokyo, the wider Tokyo metropolitan area and Osaka prefecture among others that have been harder-hit by the virus, with the government keen to see daily infections fall further to ease the strain on the nation's medical system.
A panel of experts advising the government has proposed the infection rate should drop below 0.5 new cases per 100,000 people in the past week before the emergency state could be lifted in these areas.
For Tokyo, the epicenter of the pandemic here, the number of people infected with the virus from a population of around 14 million, would have to be less than 70 in one week, the advisory panel has recommended.
Citizens where the state of emergency has been lifted are still being requested by the government to continue to avoid crowded places and close contact with people, as well as not travel between prefectures where the state of emergency has been lifted and those where it remains in place.
Abe initially declared a state of emergency for one month for seven prefectures until May 6, this was expanded nationwide on April 16, with the deadline then extended to the end of May.
The Tokyo metropolitan government on Friday, meanwhile, released a roadmap for the easing of restrictions in the capital.
The criteria for the easing of restrictions on businesses, the movement of people and people-to-people contact in the capital, will require a number of targets to be achieved for specific periods of time, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said.
Such targets include there being fewer than 20 new COVID-19 infections a day, with the percentage of untraceable cases remaining below 50 percent as a weekly average.
Koike also said that the easing measures for Tokyo, if the targets are achieved, would be phased in after the central government lifts the state of emergency for the remaining prefectures, slated for May 31.
The Tokyo metropolitan government confirmed nine new COVID-19 cases on Friday, with the figure dropping below 10 for the first time since March 22.
Following the capital's peak in April of more than 200 daily cases, Tokyo has seen new COVID-19 infections fall to double-digit levels of late.
Tokyo, the hardest hit by the virus among the country's 47 prefectures, has seen the total number of cases top 5,000, while the nationwide count has risen to around 17,000 cases.
Japan's Health Minister Kato Katsunobu said on Friday that around 10,000 people across the country would be tested for coronavirus antibodies from next month so that health officials would be able to gain a better understanding of how much of Japan's population has been infected by the coronavirus.
The tests will also help to determine the level or possibility of Japan's "herd immunity", which is achieved when a large percentage of the population develops antibodies and potential immunity to a virus.
Abe on Friday, underscoring the health ministry's plans, pledged that antibody testing would be stepped up, as well as polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.
He also warned that if there are further spikes in infections, then a state of emergency could be declared again.