The Japanese government is considering ending a state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures as scheduled on June 20, but keeping some curbs, such as on restaurant hours, until the Olympic Games start next month, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.
New COVID-19 infections in Olympics host Tokyo have inched down during the past month of emergency restrictions, although authorities remain concerned about the spread of variants and the continued strain on medical resources.
The head of Japan’s main opposition, Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan leader Yukio Edano, yesterday called for the global sporting event to be postponed or canceled, warning that there was an “extremely high risk” of an explosive outbreak in August and September if the Games went ahead.
The Mainichi Shimbun yesterday reported that the Japanese government would ask restaurants to maintain shorter hours and impose other curbs under the targeted quasi-emergency measures. Bars and restaurants are now asked to close by 8pm and are banned from serving alcohol.
A final decision is expected late next week, a few days before the end of the state of emergency, which also covers the northern island of Hokkaido, host of the Olympic marathon.
Polls have shown that most Japanese oppose holding the Games this year, worried about the flood of athletes and officials from overseas.
Japan has effectively been closed to foreign visitors since the pandemic broke out last year.
The Japanese government says that the Games will go ahead — barring “Armageddon,” as one International Olympic Committee member put it.
The Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23.
A Tokyo Olympic coronavirus expert, Nobuhiko Okabe, said completely shutting out COVID-19 would be too difficult and the focus should be on minimizing risk.
“Unfortunately, keeping the number [of infections] to zero is impossible, so I believe the focus should be on minimizing the number as much as possible,” Okabe told a news conference, adding that the cooperation of athletes and delegates was vital to prevent a major outbreak.
Edano said that it was not too late to cancel or postpone the Games.
“I can understand the desire to go ahead for the sake of the athletes, but they should either postpone for another year or cancel the Games,” Edano told a news conference.
A team of experts led by government adviser Hiroshi Nishiura said this week that Japan could be forced to declare another state of emergency in August if the current measures are lifted on June 20, since the summer holidays and the Games could spark a rise in infections, and the spread of new variants.
In another potential headache for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government, Minister of State for Science and Technology Policy Takuya Hirai apologized for telling bureaucrats they should “threaten” the developer of a smartphone app aimed at monitoring the health of foreign visitors to the Games to force a reduction in cost, media reported.
Olympics organizers in March banned spectators from abroad. Hirai’s comments sparked outrage on social media.
“As one responsible for the people’s precious tax money, I strongly wanted to eradicate waste,” Kyodo news agency quoted Hirai as telling reporters. “The expression was inappropriate and I want to be careful in future.”
Japan has recorded 770,493 COVID-19 cases and 13,881 deaths, while only 12 percent of its population has received at least one vaccination shot.
Japan plans to finish vaccinating all those who want shots by October or November, Suga said in parliament this week.
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