Japan moves to curb resurgence of Covid-19 ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Prime minister announces third state of emergency for capital and three provinces

The Tokyo Olympics were rescheduled from 2020 to 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The event is set to start on July 23rd. File photograph: EPA

The Tokyo Olympics were rescheduled from 2020 to 2021 because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The event is set to start on July 23rd. File photograph: EPA

 

Japan has declared a third state of emergency for Tokyo and three western prefectures amid scepticism it will be enough to curb a rapid coronavirus resurgence ahead of the Olympics in July.

Prime minister Yoshihide Suga announced the emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from April 25th until May 11th.

The step is largely intended to be “short and intensive” to stop people from travelling and spreading the virus during Japan’s “Golden Week” holidays from late April until the first week of May, Suga said.

Japan’s third state of emergency since the pandemic began comes only a month after an earlier emergency ended in the Tokyo area. For days, experts and local leaders said ongoing semi-emergency measures have failed and tougher steps are urgently needed.

Past emergency measures, issued a year ago and then in January, were toothless and authorised only non-mandatory requests.

The government in February toughened a law on anti-virus measures to allow authorities to issue binding orders for non-essential businesses to shorten their hours or close, in exchange for compensation for those who comply and penalties for violators.

The measures this time are to include shutdown orders for bars, department stores, shopping centres, theme parks, theatres and museums. Restaurants that do not serve alcohol and public transportation services are asked to close early.

Schools will stay open, but universities are asked to return to online classes.

The virus surge, fuelled by a new, more contagious variant detected earlier in Britain, has spread rapidly across the country.

The government has also been slow in rolling out vaccinations, leaving the population largely unprotected before the Olympics begin in July.

The end of the emergency on May 11th, just ahead of an expected visit by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, triggered speculation that the government is prioritising the Olympic schedule over people’s health.

Mr Suga has been reluctant to hurt the already pandemic-damaged economy and faced criticism for being slow to take virus measures.

Slow vaccines progress

Japan’s inoculation campaign lags behind many countries, with imported vaccines in short supply while its attempts to develop its own vaccines are still in the early stages. Inoculations started in mid-February but progress has been slow amid shortages of vaccines and healthcare workers.

The rapid increase in patients flooding hospitals has raised concerns of a further staff shortage and delay in vaccinations.

Olympic organisers said on Friday the leg of the torch relay in Okinawa’s Miyakojima island would not be held on public roads because the region is subject to priority measures for containing the spread of the coronavirus.

“Tokyo 2020 will continue to work closely with Okinawa prefecture and the local task forces in all other prefectures due to host Olympic Torch Relay segments in order to ensure that these events will be safe and secure for all local communities” said the organising committee.

Sections of the torch relay were also moved off public roads in Osaka and the city of Matsuyama as those areas battle a resurgence in infections.

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