October 20, 2021

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Japan declares virus emergency three months before the Olympics | Tokyo Olympics News

Japan declares virus emergency three months before the Olympics |  Tokyo Olympics News

TOKYO: Japan announced a new state of emergency for the virus in Tokyo and three other regions on Friday, as the country battles rising infections just three months before the Olympics opening ceremony.
The virus outbreak in the nation remains much smaller than in many countries, but a recent increase in cases has worried officials and medical professionals, even as the government and Olympic organizers insist this summer’s Games will move forward.
“Today we have decided to declare a state of emergency in the prefectures of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo,” announced Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, citing the increase in infections involving new virus variants. The measure will run from 25 April to 11 May.
The country’s virus response minister Yasutoshi Nishimura previously warned of a “strong sense of crisis”, saying the current restrictions weren’t enough.
The measures will be tougher than Japan’s latest state of emergency, imposed in parts of the country since January, but still far below the hard blockades seen in some parts of the world.
Authorities want bars and restaurants to stop selling alcohol or close and close major commercial establishments such as shopping malls.
The measure will coincide with the holidays of Golden Week, the busiest travel period of the year in Japan, and could involve cutting some train and bus services to discourage travel.
Spectators will also be excluded from sporting events, which can continue behind closed doors, and remote work will be encouraged.
Although measures begin on Sunday, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to immediately start taking precautions, including avoiding drinking on the street after bars and restaurants close early.
He even urged companies to turn off the lights in the evening to encourage people to stay away.
“After 8:00 pm, we ask that the street lights, neon signs and lighting be turned off,” he said.
“It will be dark at night, with only the street lamps on,” he added, “to stop the flow of people.”
Japan has had some success in containing the coronavirus, with fewer than 10,000 deaths despite never having imposed strict lockdown measures.
But cases have increased over the winter and have recovered since the previous state of emergency was lifted in March.
Tokyo recorded 759 cases on Friday, while Osaka recorded 1,162 new infections, down slightly from record numbers earlier in the week.
Authorities in Osaka said health facilities were already overwhelmed and beds for seriously ill patients were about to run out.
Officials insist that the situation will not affect preparations for the Games, with Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto telling reporters on Friday: “We are not thinking about cancellation.”
“We are thinking about how we can prepare ourselves in a way that prioritizes safety and makes people feel that it can be kept safe, and makes them want it to be kept.”
But the spike in infections is already disrupting everything from the Olympic torch relay – which was forced off public roads in several regions – to test events and qualifiers.
The Australian diving team withdrew from the Diving World Cup scheduled for May 1-6 in Tokyo on Friday, saying it was “not safe” to travel to Japan.
Meanwhile, Japan’s vaccination schedule is moving slowly, with just over 1.5 million people given a first shot and only about 827,000 fully vaccinated.
The Japanese public remains opposed to holding the Games this year, favoring a further delay or permanent cancellation.
“They are for (the Olympics) in the sense that we have to keep the economy alive,” Koji Yokoi, 48, in Tokyo told AFP.
“But when I see elderly people hospitalized on TV I say to myself: ‘It’s not possible'”.