As demands to cancel the Tokyo Olympics intensify, Japan on Friday extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and eight other prefectures until June 20 as hospitals struggle to handle a rise in COVID-sickened patients.
The state of emergency had previously been slated to end on May 31, but strains on the medical system are still too intense for Japanese officials to be entirely comfortable with the current situation. Japan has seen a record number of COVID patients in critical condition in recent days, even as the number of new infections has slowed. This has prompted worries about infectious new COVID "variants" spreading in the country with the start of the Olympics just a few weeks away.
"In Osaka and Tokyo, the flow of people is starting to creep up, and there are concerns that infections will rise," Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who also heads the country's coronavirus countermeasures, said at the start of a meeting with experts.
The experts later approved the government proposal and PM Yoshihide Suga officially announced the extensions.
Japanese officials, Olympics organizers and the IOC have said the Games would go ahead withstrict virus-prevention measures. IOC's senior official John Coates, who is overseeing the runup to the Games, said last week the Games were on whether or not the host city, Tokyo, is under a state of emergency at the time. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said at a regular press conference on Friday that another delay in the Olympics would be "difficult."
The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee President Seiko Hashimoto told a news conference Friday that she had received pledges from India and five other countries to vaccinate all their Olympic athletes and delegates as a measure against a new variant that has emerged in India.
IOC President Thomas Bach has said 80% of the 10,500 athletes expected in Japan would be vaccinated and on Thursday urged Olympians to get their shots if they could. Delegates must also be tested before and after arrival.
International spectators will not be allowed for the Games but some 90K people including athletes and their delegations will be coming. No decision has been made yet on domestic fans and Tokyo 2020's Hashimoto said the situation regarding the state of emergency would need to be taken into account.
But in a worrying sign for Japanese authorities, polls show a majority of Japanese want the Games either cancelled or postponed again, and even SoftBank's Masayoshi Son, one of the country's most visible business leaders, has spoken out in favor of delaying the Olympics.
Japan's latest emergency steps, unlike stricter measures in many countries, have focused mainly on asking eateries that serve alcohol to close and those that don't to shut down by 2000ET.