Japan declares emergency 3 months before Olympics

Last Updated: Sat, Apr 24th, 2021, 12:32:46hrs
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Tokyo: Japan announced a new virus state of emergency in Tokyo and three other regions on Friday, as the country battles surging infections just three months before the Olympic opening ceremony.

Following a rise in COVID cases, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a cabinet meeting Friday that four prefectures in Japan will go into a state of emergency starting Sunday.

CNN reported that Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures will be under a state of emergency through until May 11, much shorter than previous orders which lasted 7 and 10 weeks. Japan is in the midst of a fourth wave and there are elevated restrictions currently across 10 prefectures -- mainly covering Tokyo and Osaka metropolitan areas.

“Today we decided to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo prefectures,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced, citing the rise in infections involving new virus variants. The measure will run from April 25 to May 11.

“We have accumulated knowledge ... we have weapons called vaccines. I’m certain there will be an end to this difficult battle,” Suga said.

"This declaration is aimed at enhancing the measures against restaurants and stopping the movement of people during the Golden Week, as a short and intensive measure," said Prime Minister Suga as quoted by CNN.

Under the state of emergency, large commercial spaces like shopping malls will be barred from operating, except to provide essential items and services. Establishments that serve alcohol will be asked to close and dry establishments are to close from 8 p.m. or face a fine.

Meanwhile, Kyodo News reported that Japan has lagged behind other countries in its vaccine rollout, with only around 1 percent of its population having received at least one dose of Pfizer Inc.'s two shots. The government hopes to finish inoculating all of Japan's elderly by the end of July, Suga said.

Suga said the country's third emergency declaration will not affect the staging of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, reiterating the government will continue efforts to ensure they are "safe and secure."

"We are working closely with the International Olympic Committee, the Olympic Organizing Committee, and the Tokyo municipality. We will do what it takes to make it a safe and secure Olympics," Suga told a news conference. 

The nation’s virus outbreak remains much smaller than in many countries, but a recent uptick in cases has officials and medical professionals worried, even as the government and Olympic organizers insist this summer’s Games will go ahead.

Officials insist the situation will not affect preparations for the Games, with Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto telling reporters: “We’re not thinking about cancellation.”

“We’re thinking about how we can prepare in a way that prioritises safety and makes people feel it can be held safely, and makes them want it to be held.”

But the spike in infections is already disrupting everything from the Olympic torch relay — which has been forced off public roads in several regions — to test events and qualifiers.

Suga said Friday that the country’s 36 million elderly residents should be vaccinated by the end of July.

Japan’s public remains opposed to holding the Games this year, favoring a further delay or outright cancellation.

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