Japan will extend the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until at least the end of the month in a bid to halt an increase in cases less than 80 days before the start of the Olympics.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura admitted on Friday that specific measures introduced late last month that were due to end on May 11 had failed to stem a dramatic rise in infections.
Restaurants serving alcohol and department stores in the capital, along with Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto prefectures, have been called upon to close with fines imposed on those who do not comply, while “dry” establishments are encouraged to close at 8 p.m.
Residents have been advised to avoid nonessential exits, but analysis of foot traffic suggests that many people are unwilling or unable to stay home.
Japan has reported 620,000 infections since the start of the pandemic and 10,600 deaths, the highest in East Asia. While cases have declined in Tokyo in recent days, the drop has been attributed to far fewer tests than usual taking place during the Golden Week holidays, which ended on Wednesday.
“Based on the analyzes from various angles, my thinking is that we need an extension of the state of emergency,” said Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike.
Osaka, currently the epicenter of Japan’s fourth Covid-19 wave, has run out of hospital beds for patients with severe symptoms and is in “a pretty dangerous situation,” Nishimura said at the beginning of a meeting with medical experts. Several people in the prefecture have died away from home while awaiting treatment, according to reports.
The prefectures of Aichi and Fukuoka will be added to the list of areas subject to the strictest measures, with Hokkaido and two other areas under a “near” state of emergency.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has been criticized for his response to the latest outbreak and the slow launch of the vaccine in Japan, will hold a press conference after the measures were formally approved on Friday.
The latest attempt to reduce the number of cases comes a day after Pfizer / BioNTech announced that they had reached an agreement with the International Olympic Committee. [IOC] offer vaccines to athletes participating in this summer’s Games in Tokyo who cannot receive jabs as part of their home country’s launch.
The announcement drew criticism on social media, amid reports that members of the host nation’s Olympic team would also be offered doses.
An online petition Calling for the cancellation of the Games has attracted nearly 200,000 signatures in the space of a couple of days.
“We make a strong call for the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus and the protection of lives and livelihoods by using the resources available to stop the Olympics,” said Kenji Utsunomiya, a prominent lawyer and former candidate for governor of Tokyo. who organized the petition.
Japan began its vaccine rollout in February, but has not yet finished inoculating medical workers and has only just begun giving injections to people 65 and older. So far, about 2% of the population has received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the only vaccine approved by the Ministry of Health.
Organizers of the IOC and Tokyo 2020 agreed to ban foreign sports fans from attending the Games, but postponed a decision on Japanese spectators until next month.
The torch relay, which has been banned from public roads in several places due to virus fears, faces further disruptions. On Thursday, the Fukuoka prefectural governor said it would be difficult to organize the event for two days next week while the area was subject to emergency measures.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism