Koji Sasahara / AP
SEOUL, South Korea – The Japanese government has extended a state of emergency covering major cities at least until June 20 – about a month before the start of the Tokyo Olympics, which polls show a overwhelming many Japanese do not want to proceed as planned.
This is the third state of emergency in the pandemic in Japan and the second extension since the current emergency began on April 25. The emergency shortens the opening hours of some businesses and limits participation in major events. It covers the capital Tokyo, the second city of Osaka and seven other prefectures. Less strict “quasi-emergencies” will be extended until June 20 in five other prefectures.
“New cases of coronavirus have been on the decline across the country since mid-May, but the situation remains highly unpredictable,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Told a government task force on Friday, after finalizing a decision that had been requested by several local governments.
The dissemination in Japan of variant strains of the virus slowed the decline in the number of cases. Some hospitals remain overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, and some people have died at home, without power access medical care.
Vaccine deployment in Japan remains the slowest of the developed economies, with just 6% of residents having received at least one dose. Partly because Japan had relatively few cases of COVID-19 compared to other countries last year, it struck vaccine purchase agreements with foreign vaccine makers months later than experts say he should have.
In addition, Japan requires that imported vaccines undergo domestic clinical testing, which slows down the approval process. And he had several vaccine scares, which damaged trust between residents and the government.
Despite all of this, the government’s insistence that the games be safe has grown more adamant.
“I know a lot of people are anxious or worried,” Suga told reporters, respecting the pledge of the organizers that the athletes would be strictly separated from the Japanese population and that countermeasures against the virus would ensure the safety of both. groups.
President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach told a conference Thursday that athletes should “confidently come to Tokyo and prepare,” hailing the Japanese capital as “the best-prepared Olympic city ever. “.
The IOC has asked Olympic athletes to sign waivers, exonerating the organizers of any legal liability for risks related to COVID-19. Bach recognized it was a concern for some athletes, but the IOC calls it “standard practice”.
The inflexible stance of the organizers this week met with a crescendo of criticism in Japan and abroad.
“Since the emergence of COVID-19, there has not been such a dangerous gathering of people gathering in one place from so many different places around the world”, Dr Naoto Ueyama, president of the Union doctors from Japan, Told journalists Thursday.
One possible outcome, he added, “is if a new mutant strain of the virus were to arise as a result of this, the Olympics.”
A item This week in the New England Journal of Medicine, meanwhile, questioned organizers’ fundamental argument that the games can be played safely. “We believe that the IOC’s determination to proceed to the Olympic Games is not based on the best scientific evidence,” the authors wrote.
The authors note that when organizers decided in March 2020 to postpone the games, Japan only had 865 active COVID-19 cases. It now has more than 70,000, while active cases worldwide have increased from 385,000 to 19 million during the same period.
Also this week, Japan’s second largest newspaper by circulation, The Asahi Shimbun, became the first major Japanese media to use a editorial for the games to be canceled. The 142-year-old publication, one of Asia’s oldest newspapers, is also an Olympic sponsor.
Sponsors are particularly nervous about the prospect of the games being canceled, which could cost Japan around $ 17 billion. But, as report An economist from the Nomura Research Institute pointed out this week that a new state of emergency, in response to a new wave of infections after the Olympics, could cost the country several times that amount.