Japan is set to extend the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas where infections are not yet slowing to levels, it can safely host the opening of the Olympics in a bit more than 50 days.
The extension is needed as people increasingly roam in public, especially in Tokyo and Osaka, when they should be doing the opposite, and there are concerns that lifting the emergency will cause an instant rebound. infections, said Economic Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.
The current emergency in the capital and eight other metropolitan areas was due to end next Monday, but hospitals in some areas are still overflowing with COVID-19 patients and severe cases have recently reached new highs.
Nishimura told reporters that the government’s proposal for a 20-day extension until June 20 in all nine areas received preliminary approval from experts before an official announcement later on Friday. Okinawa Prefecture, in the south of the island, is already in an emergency until June 20.
Olympic organizers have to decide around this date whether or not to allow fans, after foreign spectators were banned months ago. A plan to prioritize vaccinations for Japanese athletes is also delayed at this time, according to media reports.
The Olympics are set to begin on July 23 after a one-year postponement due to the pandemic, and concerns over new variants and the slow rollout of vaccination in Japan have prompted calls from the public and medical experts to cancel Games.
Experts have warned that more contagious variants are infecting more people, leaving them seriously ill and flooding hospitals.
Meanwhile, Japan has fallen behind on vaccinations due to missteps and bureaucratic and planning shortages. Only 2.3% of the population has been fully vaccinated and the current phase targeting the elderly is not expected to end before the Games.
Yet Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his government are determined to host the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee also said the Olympics would continue even if the host city of Tokyo was under emergency measures.
Japan has reported around 730,000 cases of infection and more than 12,700 deaths.