A viral state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of Japan was extended on Friday, less than three months before the Olympics, with restrictions also imposed in more regions as cases increase.
The emergency measures, less stringent than general lockdowns in other countries, were due to end on May 11 but will now continue until the end of the month, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.
“The number of new cases of the virus is at a high level in major cities, while hospitals continue to be overwhelmed in Osaka and Hyogo prefectures,” Suga said.
“Based on this situation, we decided to add Aichi and Fukuoka to the areas under state of emergency and extend it until May 31. “
The Covid-19 epidemic in Japan remains much lower than in many countries, with just over 10,500 deaths.
But its vaccine rollout is moving slowly, and some areas have seen record cases as more infectious variants lead to new waves of contagion.
Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura has warned that the western region’s medical system “is reaching a breaking point”, with reports of Covid-19 patients dying while waiting for an ambulance.
Fukuoka and Aichi have been added to the four regions that have been under emergency measures for the past fortnight – Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto and the capital Tokyo, where the Olympics are due to open on July 23.
The state of emergency restricts commercial activity, with bars and restaurants ordered to close or cease serving alcohol, and cinemas and karaoke lounges closed.
But some rules will soon be relaxed despite the extension, local media reported, such as the return of a limited number of supporters to sports stadiums.
– ‘Protect our lives’ –
More than 10,000 athletes from 200 countries and regions are expected to compete in the 2020 Olympics postponed by the pandemic.
Games President Seiko Hashimoto said on Friday that the organizing committee “would welcome” a visit by IOC President Thomas Bach this month, but that it would be “very difficult” to organize given a prolonged state of emergency.
The Japanese government and Games organizers insist the event will run safely – although polls show most Japanese support the cancellation or other delay.
More than 210,000 people have signed an online petition entitled “Cancel the Tokyo Olympics to protect our lives,” launched Wednesday by a lawyer and former candidate for governor of Tokyo.
And a hospital in western Tokyo placed signs in its windows saying “Olympic Games impossible!”, With the head of the facility telling Asahi Shimbun daily that his nurses were already overworked.
Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Thursday announced an agreement with the International Olympic Committee to provide vaccines to competitors and staff at the Tokyo Games.
But Japan’s vaccination program is progressing cautiously, with less than one percent of the population having received two injections of the Pfizer vaccine, the only vaccine authorized to date.
World Athletics boss Sebastian Coe, who attended a reduced rehearsal for the Olympic marathon in the northern city of Sapporo on Wednesday, said on Friday he recognized the “difficult times” facing Japan.
“The safety of our athletes is important to us, but also the safety of the local community,” he told reporters in Tokyo, noting that the athletes in the marathon test had found the countermeasures against the virus ” comforting ”.
The pandemic disrupted the Olympic test events, with several having been postponed, canceled or moved abroad.
But the Diving World Cup and a rowing qualification took place this week in Tokyo with athletes from overseas, with Tokyo 2020 organizers calling the diving event “very successful.”
“All participants have fully complied with the measures in place,” Tokyo 2020 said in a statement following the six-day event, in which 224 athletes took part.
Several sections of the torch relay were also moved off-road to prevent people from gathering to watch.
The governor of Fukuoka has said he wants him removed from public roads when he passes through the region next week.
Organizers of the Olympics have yet to decide how many fans – if any – will be allowed at the Games, as foreign spectators are already banned from participating.
© 2021 AFP