Olympics: Japan may keep some COVID-19 curbs until Games start

Olympics: Japan may keep some COVID-19 curbs until Games start

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is seen through signboards, in Tokyo
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Tokyo Olympic Games, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in Tokyo, Japan, January 22, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

TOKYO: The Japanese government is considering ending a state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures as scheduled on Jun 20, but keeping some curbs such as on restaurant hours until the Olympics start in July, the Mainichi daily reported.

New coronavirus infections in Olympics city Tokyo have inched down during the last month of emergency restrictions, though authorities remain concerned about the spread of variants and the continued strain on medical resources.

On Friday, the head of Japan's main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Edano, called for the global sporting event to be postponed or cancelled, warning there was an "extremely high risk" of an explosive outbreak in August and September if they went ahead.

The Mainichi newspaper reported on Friday (Jun 11) the government would ask restaurants to keep 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 current emergency state, which also covers the northern island of Hokkaido, host of the marathon event.

READ: Top Japanese virologist warns of risks of Tokyo Games during COVID-19 pandemic: Report

READ: Olympics: IOC pushes for more COVID-19 vaccinations of Tokyo-bound athletes

Polls have shown a majority of the Japanese public opposes 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 and Olympic organisers have said the Games would go ahead - barring "Armageddon", as one International Olympic Committee (IOC) member put it. The Olympics are scheduled to start on Jul 23.

A team of experts led by government adviser Hiroshi Nishiura said this week Japan could be forced to declare another state of emergency in August if the current measures were lifted on Jun 20, since summer holidays and the Games could spark a rise in infections and a spread of new variants.

READ: Japan's PM laments taking heat for hosting Olympics despite pandemic

NOT TOO LATE

Opposition leader Edano said 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 Japan could be forced to declare another state of emergency in August if the current measures were lifted on Jun 20, since summer holidays and the Games could spark a rise in infections and the spread of new variants.

In another potential headache for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government, the minister for digital transformation apologised 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 organisers decided in March to ban 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 Takuya Hirai as telling reporters. 

"The expression was inappropriate and I want to be careful in future."

Japan has recorded more than 760,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 13,800 deaths, while only 12 per cent of its population has received at least one vaccination shot.

Japan plans to finish vaccinating all those who want shots by October-November, Suga said in parliament this week.

Source: Reuters/vc

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