Shinjuku Station is devoid of the usual crowds amid Tokyo's ongoing state of emergency. Photo: AFP

Japan will lift de facto lockdowns in the country’s west – notably, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo – by the end of this week as the number of new coronavirus infections in each of the three prefectures has remained low.

However, the “state of emergency” will remain intact for Tokyo and the northern island of Hokkaido, as their numbers of daily infections are not judged, yet, to meet government criteria for public safety.

Even so, as of the end of this week, this means only five of the country’s 47 prefectures will remain in a state of emergency – albeit, those prefectures make up about a third of the Japanese economy, Kyodo news agency reported.

The news of the easing was made on Thursday morning by Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, Reuters reported. An official announcement was expected to come late on Thursday from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to Kyodo.

Japan’s state of emergency – in essence, a “lockdown lite” – was instituted last month. It relies heavily on public cooperation, rather than enforcement, with local governments “requesting” citizens stay home and suspend certain businesses.

As such, it is assessed to have reached a happy medium that reduced health risks while enabling significant elements of the economy to continue ticking over.

The declaration about the easing of restrictions in the west of Japan comes as key economies including the EU, UK and US ease cautiously out of stricter lockdowns.

Elsewhere in the region, much of China is already back to work, and South Korea, which did not institute any lockdowns, eased social distancing measures earlier this month, and re-started schools on Wednesday.

Abe lifted the state of emergency for 39 of the country’s 47 prefectures last week and said it would be possible to do the same in the rest of the nation even before its planned expiry on May 31, Kyodo reported.