TOKYO, May 21 (Reuters) - Japan will lift its state of emergency in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo on Thursday as the number of new coronavirus infections drops, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said, amid hopes the move will help the world’s third-largest economy to recover.

Tokyo and four other prefectures, including the northern island of Hokkaido, would remain under the state of emergency - which has already been lifted for much of the country.

“I believe it is safe to lift the state of emergency in Kyoto, Osaka, and Hyogo given that the number of new infections in recent days are under 0.5 cases per 100,000 people and medical services are under control,” Nishimura told the experts at the start of their meeting, which was open to the media.

Nishimura made the announcement after a panel of experts, whose approval is needed, signed off on the move.

Japan has not had the explosive surge seen in many other countries, with 16,433 confirmed cases including 784 deaths as of Wednesday, according to public broadcaster NHK.

But the outbreak and restrictions on activity and business under the state of emergency have already tipped the economy into recession. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, like other world leaders, has been striving to balance the need to contain the pathogen’s spread with the need to keep the economy running.

So far, the western prefectures of Kyoto, Osaka, and Hyogo are averaging at 0.09 infections per 100,000 people, in contrast with 0.59 for Tokyo and surrounding areas and 0.69 for Hokkaido.

The availability of tests and medical services will also be factored in to the final decision.

New cases in Tokyo have recently dropped to single digits, while the western metropolis of Osaka has seen no new cases.

The move to drop Kyoto, Osaka, and Hyogo from its list of prefectures with curbs in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus comes a week after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the blanket state of emergency instated across Japan would be lifted in most places.