May 18 (UPI) -- Japan has slipped into a recession as its economy sank for a second straight quarter, officials said Monday, making it the strongest economy to see its productivity greatly decline amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The government announced the world's third-largest economy contracted 0.9 percent during the January-to-March quarter, equaling a contraction at the annual pace of 3.4 percent.
Japan recorded slides across all sectors except for government consumption, which grew by 0.1 percent. Leading the declines, exports of goods and services contracted 6 percent followed by imports at 4.9 percent and private residential investment at 4.5 percent.
The coronavirus has upended markets worldwide as government leaders have forced businesses to shutter, borders to close and people to stay home to stop its spread.
Since it emerged late last year, COVID-19 has infected more than 4.7 million people worldwide causing 315,000 deaths.
Japan has fared better than most amid the pandemic, incurring more than 16,000 infections and 744 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, but its economy was already struggling when the virus began to wreak havoc.
During the fourth quarter of last year, Japan suffered an annual rate contraction of 6.4 percent, or a 1.9 percent drop in the gross domestic product, and conditions are expected to worsen.
"The real big ugly stuff is going to happen in the April, June print," Izumi Devalier, chief Japan economist at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told The New York Times. "It's going to be three quarters of very negative growth."
The announcement came as Italy eased lockdown restrictions on Monday, allowing most businesses, including restaurants, to open after two months of strict lockdown.
Italy, despite still recording triple-digit daily infections, has experienced a steady decline in cases since mid-March, with its number of active cases plateauing mid-April before starting a gradual decline, according to data tracked by worldometers.info.
Along with performing commerce, Italians will be able to travel within their own regions for non-essential purposes, among other newly gained freedoms. However, authorities may declare beaches or other such areas off-limits.
On the eve of relaxing the measures, Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza urged citizens to "remain prudent."
"Tomorrow, the behaviors we have learned will be more necessary than before because there will be greater occasion for contagion," the minister warned on Sunday. "The virus is still not defeated. It's not present like it was weeks ago, but it's still here, so we must remain prudent."