Tokyo put under state of emergency for entire duration of Olympics
The Japanese government on Thursday decided to put Tokyo under a state of emergency because of rising coronavirus cases in the capital. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is trying to pull off the Games without triggering a large-scale Covid crisis, said the state of emergency would go into effect on Monday and last through August 22.
This means the Games, opening on July 23 and running till August 8, will be held entirely under emergency measures.
Suga said this step was needed to prevent the resurgence of the future spread of cases across the country.
The main focus of the emergency is a request for bars, restaurants and karaoke parlors serving alcohol to close. A ban on serving alcohol is a key step to tone down Olympic-related festivities and keep people from drinking and partying. Tokyo residents are expected to face stay-home requests and watch the games on TV from home.
“How to stop people enjoying the Olympics from going out for drinks is a main issue,” Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said.
The present state of emergency ends Sunday. Tokyo reported 920 new cases on Wednesday, up from 714 a week earlier. It was the 18th straight day of week-on-week increases, and was the highest total since 1,010 were reported on May 13.
IOC Chief in town
On his visit to Tokyo, IOC chief Thomas Bach largely avoided cameras at the Haneda Airport and, on a rainy afternoon, went to the International Olympic Committee's games headquarters in Tokyo, a five-star hotel in the center of the city. He is reported to need to self-isolate for three days.
Bach's arrival comes just two weeks before the postponed Games are to open. The IOC and local organisers are attempting to hold the games during a pandemic despite opposition from the Japanese public and medical community.
Fans from abroad were months ago banned from attending the Olympics. But just two weeks ago, organisers and the IOC decided to allow venues to be filled to 50 per cent of capacity but crowds not to exceed 10,000. The state-of-emergency will force them to change plans again with a decision probably coming later on Thursday.
No spectators likely
The soaring cases are likely to mean that venues will be without any spectators, although sponsors and others may have access. The no-fan atmosphere could include the opening ceremony at the USD 1.4 billion National Stadium. The uptick in infections has also forced the Tokyo city government to pull the Olympic torch relay off capital streets, allowing it to run only on remote islands off the Tokyo coast. It's unclear how the torch will enter the stadium for the opening ceremony.
"The infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it," Dr Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, said. He urged authorities to quickly take tough measures ahead of the Olympics, with summer vacations approaching. Omi has repeatedly called for a ban on spectators, and has said it's abnormal to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.
Tokyo main contributor in Covid crisis
Separately, a government COVID-19 advisory panel met on Wednesday and expressed concerns about the ongoing resurgence of the infections. Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas, said Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The Olympics are pushing ahead against most medical advice, partially because the postponement stalled the IOC's income flow. It gets almost 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights, and estimates suggest it would lose 3 billion to 4 billion if the Olympics were canceled.
About 11,000 Olympians and 4,400 Paralympians are expected to enter Japan, with tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, sponsors, broadcasters, and media also entering. The IOC says more than 80% of resident of the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.
Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15 per cent of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared with 47.4% in the United States and almost 50 per cent in Britain.