An increase in daily coronavirus cases in Tokyo raised fears of a possible fifth wave of infections, less than a month before the city hosted the Olympics.
Tokyo reported 317 infections on Monday – an increase of 81 from the same day last week and the ninth consecutive week-over-week increase.
Rising number of cases, coupled with evidence that the more transmissible Delta variant is spreading, increases the likelihood that Tokyo will still be subject to emergency measures of one form or another when the Olympics open July 23.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister overseeing Japan’s response to the pandemic, said this week that the government “would not hesitate” to call for a new state of emergency if necessary.
“The number of new infections in the capital and other areas of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area clearly tends to increase,” he said in an interview with public broadcaster NHK.
The dangers of holding an Olympics-wide event during a pandemic were highlighted this month when two members of the Ugandan team tested positive for Covid-19 – the second while he remained in the city that hosts their training camp. Both had the delta variant of the virus, local media reported.
In response, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Japan will tighten quarantine requirements for athletes and other participants from areas where the delta strain has been detected.
The president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, Yasuhiro Yamashita, admitted that cases would emerge related to the Games.
“No matter what action you take, infected people will come in… it’s inevitable,” Yamashita said. “Strict border controls at airports are extremely important. “
Signs of the virus rebounding emerged just days after the government lifted a state of emergency in Tokyo and nine other regions, despite evidence it had failed to significantly reduce infections.
The capital is now subject to “almost” relaxed emergency measures, with bars and restaurants being asked to stop serving alcohol at 7 p.m. and close an hour later.
Japan has averted a catastrophic Covid-19 outbreak, but its initially slow rollout of the vaccine, coupled with restrictions on the government’s ability to enforce business closures, has resulted in repeated rebounds after the lifting or easing emergency measures.
The country has reported nearly 800,000 cases since the start of the pandemic and 14,700 deaths – one of the highest tolls in the region.
John Coates, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), sparked anger in Japan last month when he said the Olympics would be held even though Tokyo was in a state of emergency.
“All the measures we take will ensure the security of the Games, whether or not there is a state of emergency,” said Coates, IOC Vice President for Preparations, after a virtual meeting with organizers.
“As long as we can protect the Japanese public, the most important thing is to give the athletes a chance to compete. “
Recent surveys indicate high levels of public opposition in the host city. In a poll of Tokyo residents by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, 38% of those polled wanted the Games to go as planned, while 27% asked for a further postponement and 33% said they should be canceled.
A Mainichi Shimbun poll found that 58% were opposed to holding the event this summer, with 30% in favor.