,TOKYO - Japan's government is leaning towards ending a state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding areas over COVID-19 as scheduled on March 21, the Sankei newspaper reported on Sunday. The government is expected to make its decision at a meeting with advisers on March 18, Sankei reported. Calls to the prime minister's office were not answered. The number of hospital beds in use to treat COVID-19 patients is falling gradually, which is justification to end the state of emergency as scheduled, the Sankei said, citing an unnamed government official. Restrictions such as shorter business hours for restaurants and bars have helped reduce new daily cases in Tokyo to roughly a tenth of a peak of 2,520 on Jan. 7, but the number of new infections in Tokyo has been creeping up in recent days, raising concerns that the state of emergency might be extended. There is growing consensus among government officials and advisers, though, that even if the state of emergency is kept in place it would not lead to a further improvement in the number of infections, the Sankei said, citing an unnamed member of the government's advisory panel. The Japanese government extended the emergency declaration for Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures on March 5 by 14 days, saying COVID-19 cases hadn't fallen far enough and that new, more infectious coronavirus variants posed a threat. Japan is trying to bring coronavirus cases under control and get vaccinations well under way as it prepares to host the delayed Summer Olympics, now scheduled to start on July 23. Japan has so far recorded 446,923 coronavirus cases and 8,573 deaths. REUTERS
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