TOKYO – Japan hosts the Tokyo Olympics. But the capital, along with other populated areas, is in the midst of a “state of emergency” declared by the government to curb the surge in COVID-19 infections. What does this state of emergency mean? How is it applied? We break it down here.
HOW LONG DOES THIS STATE OF EMERGENCY LAST?
Japan is now in its fourth state of emergency. Tokyo has been in this state for much of this year. People resign themselves to it, no longer worrying about a “critical emergency”, as the Japanese term translates, but accept it as a new normal. So even as the nation celebrates medal winners, ambulance sirens sound regularly. Tokyo has seen a record number of daily cases, totaling several thousand, tripling since the opening of the Olympics on July 23. Experts say it could reach 10,000 people in a matter of weeks.
WHAT IS THIS STATE OF EMERGENCY – OR WHAT IS NOT?
One thing it isn’t is a lockdown. Restaurants and bars are asked to close early and cannot serve alcohol. The idea is that people who drink and are influenced by alcohol speak out loud, which spreads infections. But some medical experts say it unfairly targets restaurants as airborne variants can spread anywhere.
States of emergency have varied slightly, with previous ones not banning alcohol. Last year, schools were temporarily closed. The affected regions are also different. Other areas have periodically been subject to less stringent measures.
DOES IT REALLY WORK?
Some will say no. Tokyo’s streets are teeming with people, commuter trains are crowded, and despite government demands for people to work from home, wage earners say their bosses are demanding they come to the office.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE OLYMPIC GAMES?
The events are unfolding without spectators, although the stands are not completely empty as team and Olympic Games officials, as well as journalists, are there. Athletes are tested for COVID-19 daily, and others involved in the Games are also tested regularly. These tests are free. This contrasts with the general public, for whom such tests are difficult to obtain and cost hundreds of dollars each.
The Olympic “bubble” was not perfect, with around 30 people, almost all non-athletic Japanese workers, testing positive per day. Taisuke Nakata, a professor at the University of Tokyo who has studied the effects of emergency measures on the economy, says the number is insignificant compared to the movement of 126 million Japanese and how this potentially spreads infections . Nakata believes people’s actions might finally change if cases continue to rise, but he’s not sure.
ARE THE JAPANESE NOT VACCINATED NOW?
Japan has one of the slowest vaccine deployments in the developed world, with around a third of the adult population now fully vaccinated. While older people have priority, people have complained that signing up for the shots, over the phone or online, is frustrating, like winning coveted concert tickets with slots filled almost as soon as they open.
We can think that Japan, home to Toyota Motor Corp. and Sony Corp., would be a production powerhouse. But it totally depends on the imported vaccines. A vaccine made in Japan is unlikely to arrive until next year, possibly 2023. Critics say strict regulations on drug approval, especially for vaccines, prevent swift decision making. The problem is also the money. Former President Donald Trump’s Warp Speed Project totaled $ 2 billion. Japan has allocated some 50 billion yen ($ 500 million) to develop a vaccine.
Philippe Fauchet, who has two decades of experience in the pharmaceutical industry in Japan, at the head of GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis, says the country’s conservative and risk-averse “island culture” has hampered its response to the pandemic.
ARE PEOPLE WORRIED?
Although Japan tends to be a tidy and conformist place, protesters have taken to the streets to oppose the Olympics. They say bringing tens of thousands of people from around the world together sends the wrong message during a valuation of human life pandemic. Dissatisfaction with political leaders runs deep, with notes of support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga plunging. The feeling among ordinary Japanese people, apparent in the silent challenge of those revelers who swarm Tokyo bars in the middle of an emergency, might look like this: If you’re risking your health to go to work anyway, why not do the job. party a little?
Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama. More AP: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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