The Japanese government has recommended extending a state of emergency that includes Tokyo and other major cities, in a last-ditch effort to rein in COVID-19 infections ahead of the capital hosting the Olympic Games in less than two months.
Japanese Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy Yasutoshi Nishimura, the government’s point man for pandemic policy, yesterday said that the state of emergency that was due to end on Monday would be extended to June 20, a little more than a month before the Olympics start.
The extension is for Tokyo, Osaka and seven prefectures that comprise about half of the nation’s economy.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was to announce the formal decision, which was expected later yesterday.
Suga faces enormous pressure to keep the COVID-19 outbreak under control, as the public is worried the global sports spectacle could turn into a superspreader event, but he has few tools left to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Japanese government is running one of the slowest vaccination programs in the developed world, so far giving just 10.6 million shots, compared with 291 million in the US.
“If the current situations continue, it will be very difficult to hold the Olympics,” Tokyo Medical Association chairman Haruo Ozaki said in an online briefing on Thursday. “In that sense, this is the last chance.”
Nearly 60 percent of respondents in a Yomiuri newspaper poll this month said that the Games should be called off and the Asahi newspaper, a sponsor of the event, wrote in an editorial on Wednesday that Suga should make the decision to cancel.
A decision on whether to hold the Tokyo Olympics must be made by the end of next month at the latest, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said in an interview with Jiji Press.
The committee has the final say, but in a statement this week it said all Games-related decisions “have always been and will always be taken in full agreement of all parties.”
The Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on July 23.
The extension comes after the US government on Monday said that Americans should avoid traveling to Japan because of the outbreak.
The warning — which came despite far lower infection rates in Japan than in the US — was a fresh blow to a nation struggling to convince the international community that it is ready to host the Olympics delayed from last year.
The latest state of emergency, put in place late last month, helped reduce the daily number of recorded infections in the capital from 1,027 on April 29 to 684 on Thursday.
The restrictions have meant that bars and restaurants have to close at 8pm, and are banned from selling alcohol, while some large stores have been closed.
Analysts factoring in a longer emergency now see a larger chance of the Japanese economy suffering a second straight quarterly contraction.
“Japan’s imminent extension to its virus emergency probably spells another recession,” said Yuki Masujima of Bloomberg Economics.
Canceling the Tokyo Olympics could then inflict further economic damage — it would cause a direct economic loss of about ￥1.4 trillion (US$12.75 billion), Dai-Ichi Life Research Institute chief economist Toshihiro Nagahama said.
Takahide Kiuchi at Nomura Research Institute estimated the figure at ￥1.8 trillion, based mainly on lost consumption.
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