Dozens of companies across Tokyo have decided that the cost to their business is greater than any loosely enforced financial penalty. They will continue to sell drinks and close after 8 p.m. during the Games. There is no punishment for drinkers, no stay-at-home order, and no police to break up groups larger than a family.
Japan’s aversion to government power after World War II hampered it with emergency measures that remain largely voluntary. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who faces elections by October, once again had to pull together all the symbolism of a state of emergency label last week to convey the scale of the emergency.
Virologist Hitoshi Oshitani, the architect of Japan’s early approach to the pandemic, said the government must rely on the public to voluntarily change its behavior.
“The state of emergency is more of a symbolic message to the people,” said the Japanese government adviser. The Sydney Morning Herald and Age from Tokyo.
“This one is a big challenge for us. People are complaining, there isn’t a lot of law enforcement, just a small fine. Communication is therefore a challenge and people may not follow the government’s recommendation. “
In a country where compliance is mostly voluntary, the subsequent decision to ban supporters from largely outdoor stadiums was more a matter of optics than the transmissibility of the virus. Fear among members of the Japanese government’s COVID-19 panel was that the disconnect between a state of emergency and images of fans in the rafters would further undermine the public response to an already fragile state of emergency.
The COVID advisory group has told the Japanese government fans should go. The message was conveyed to the Tokyo Organizing Committee and the International Olympic Committee, the bodies responsible for enforcing restrictions at Olympic venues.
“When people watch a lot of spectators at the Olympics and then they say that we don’t have to follow the order of the government, ‘we are just enjoying our party and so on’, then it becomes more. difficult, ”Oshitani said.
Sadly, perhaps, if Japan – like Australia – hadn’t been so successful in containing the virus in its first waves, that would be another story.
The outbreaks of infection that swept across the UK last year have given it both a basic level of immunity and an incentive to secure and deliver vaccines in record time. After keeping COVID cases at 814,000 from over 5 million in the UK, the vaccination rate in Japan has been slow. To date, it has only fully vaccinated 15% of its population, a third of the level in many parts of Europe and the United States.
“We cannot do what the UK is doing,” Oshitani said. “Our population is not immune to this virus. “
Worse yet, Oshitani said, the Delta strain had started hitting Japanese people hardest in their 40s and 50s. These patients, who have not yet been vaccinated unlike many of their parents, are also more likely to go to bars and restaurants as well as to travel across Japan for the next summer vacation.
For those on the Japanese coronavirus panel, the COVID summer peak, when many residents travel to local Tokyo prefectures, is a bigger fear than the Games.
“This is exactly what we saw last summer,” Oshitani said.
The Wimbledon and Wembley celebrations also mask an imminent threat.
If clusters of infection have formed, it is likely that they will not be known until two to three weeks after the event.
On Friday, Professor Paul Elliott, director of the React program at Imperial’s School of Public Health, told Sky News UK there was already a slight increase in cases, especially among young men from the early days of the tournament. of Euro football.
“We have seen the same in Scotland around the Euro and the visits to Wembley and the games in Glasgow,” he said. “Obviously, it’s not just about going to the game, it’s about going to the pub, being nearby.”
For the unvaccinated, there is a cautionary tale from February 2020 when the virus was taking its first steps on European soil.
Atalanta, a fighters football team from Bergamo, Italy, faced Spanish giants Valencia. Forty thousand Bergamo fans traveled to Milan to see Atalanta claim an unlikely 4-1 victory on February 19. Thousands more would fill the city’s bars and restaurants, embracing all the goals.
Five weeks later, the local newspaper obituaries filled a dozen pages.