TOKYO — Japan on Monday lifted six days early a state of emergency put in place nationwide since mid-April to stem the coronavirus pandemic.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday ended the state of emergency in the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area and the northern province of Hokkaido, the last remaining areas of the country on high alert.

The move comes six days earlier than expected, with the national state of emergency initially set to run until May 31.

Abe said the country had gained control over its coronavirus outbreak without needing to impose the kind of strict lockdown seen in Europe and elsewhere. Residents were only requested to stay at home if possible.

The restrictions were introduced in stages and tweaked according to the infection situation across the country.

Nevertheless, Japan has suffered a similar economic slump to that seen elsewhere and has ramped up government expenditure in response.

Experts now say the world’s third-biggest economy is better placed for recovery than other countries that imposed stricter lockdowns.

Restrictions for businesses, travel and large events are to be lifted in stages after reviews every three weeks over the coming months.

However, the prime minister called upon the population to remain alert to the risk of a second wave of infections. Residents should continue to wear masks, keep their distance from one another and work from home where possible.

The country’s outbreak appears to be under control, with daily numbers of new cases falling for some time.

Abe’s own approval ratings have taken a heavy hit over his perceived unsatisfactory handling of the crisis.

Critics had accused Abe’s government of conducting fewer tests than other countries, though experts argue that this is justified given that Japan has seen far fewer deaths and cases with severe symptoms.

Japan has so far confirmed around 17,300 coronavirus infections and around 850 related deaths. The capital, Tokyo, has been hit worst and had to postpone its hosting of the Olympic Games until next year.

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