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Covid-19: two weeks before the start of the Olympics, Japan will declare a state of emergency in Tokyo

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The Japanese government has confirmed its intention to establish a new state of health emergency for the duration of the Tokyo Olympics which must, foreshadowing an event with few spectators.

The Japanese government is preparing to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo until August 22, for the duration of the Olympics, due to a new wave of Covid-19 infections, announced Thursday 8 July, the Japanese Minister of Economy.

“The number of new cases continues to increase in Tokyo,” said Yasutoshi Nishimura, minister responsible for managing Covid-19, on Thursday. “With the increase in travel, the Delta variant, more infectious, now represents about 30% of cases. This figure should increase further,” he said.

Yasutoshi Nishimura said the new state of health emergency, which will be formalized today, would set a ceiling of 5,000 spectators or 50% of a site’s capacity, whichever is lower.

The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, arrived Thursday in Japan where he is due to participate online – a three-day quarantine required – in a meeting on the spectators of the competition.

In Japan, health emergency measures are much less stringent than lockdowns imposed elsewhere in the world, limiting the sale of alcohol and forcing bars and restaurants to close earlier. But restrictions also target cultural and sporting events, an essential issue two weeks before the opening of the Games, on July 23.

Alcohol will now be banned in bars and restaurants, which will have to close at 8 p.m. Events such as concerts must end at 9 p.m. “We hope to contain the spread of infections by placing Tokyo in a state of emergency,” said the minister, adding that hospitalizations were on the rise among those in their forties and fifties.

While the Japanese archipelago has so far been relatively spared from the Covid-19 pandemic – with around 14,900 officially recorded deaths to date – its vaccination program has progressed very slowly.

Just over 15% of the population has been fully vaccinated and experts fear the Delta variant could cause another wave that could overwhelm hospitals. The country has experienced several health emergencies since 2020.

Towards a closed door?

The Japanese government’s move comes as Olympics organizers scramble to fix once and for all the number of spectators allowed at venues during the events.

In March, they already banned spectators from abroad – a first in Olympic history – and last month they set a cap of 10,000 local spectators or 50% of a venue’s capacity, whichever is lower.

But organizers acknowledged that this number could be further reduced, and that the Games could even take place behind closed doors if the health situation worsened. Around 11,000 athletes are expected at the Tokyo Olympics, a city where draconian anti-Covid measures have been imposed.

The presence or absence of an audience is a puzzle for the ticket office. A draw supposed to fix a reduced number of spectators has continued to be rejected. It is now scheduled for Saturday.

The Tokyo-2020 Organizing Committee is trying to generate some enthusiasm for these Games plagued by the pandemic. But the Olympic torch relay, which has been banned on public roads in most of Japan, will also take place behind closed doors from Friday in the capital where very limited ceremonies are scheduled until the Games.

On Tuesday, organizers said they would ask the public to “refrain” from attending the marathon and walking events in Sapporo. Polls show that most Japanese would prefer the Games to be postponed again or simply canceled, although opposition to the Olympics has weakened in recent weeks.

With AFP

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