Cases remain high and medical systems in Osaka, the hardest-hit region in western Japan, are still overburdened, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said when announcing the decision. The current state of emergency in the capital and eight other metropolitan areas was due to end next Monday, but hospitals in some areas are still overflowing with COVID-19 patients and severe cases have recently reached new highs.
The 20-day extension covers nine areas ranging from Hokkaido in the north to Fukuoka in the south. A 10th zone, the prefecture of the southern island of Okinawa, is already in an emergency situation until June 20.
The Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23
Olympic organizers have to decide around this time whether or not to allow fans, after overseas spectators were banned months ago. A plan to prioritize vaccinations for Japanese athletes is expected to begin on that date, according to media reports.
The Olympics are set to begin on July 23 after a one-year postponement due to the pandemic, and concerns about new variants and the slow rollout of vaccination in Japan have sparked calls from the public, medical experts and even from a sponsor to cancel the games.
Experts have warned that the variants are infecting more people, leaving them seriously ill and flooding hospitals.
Japan has fallen behind on vaccinations due to missteps and bureaucratic and planning shortages. Only 2.3% of the population has been fully vaccinated and the current phase targeting the elderly is not expected to end before the start of the Games.
Still, Suga and his government are determined to host the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee also said the Games will continue even if the host city of Tokyo is under emergency measures.
Japan has reported around 735,000 cases of the coronavirus and around 12,700 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Case Tracker.
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