The state of emergency has been extended to Tokyo and other areas for another 20 days before the Olympics.
Japan has extended the state of emergency of the coronavirus in Tokyo and other areas for another 20 days, with infections still not slowing down as it prepares to host the Olympics in just over 50 days.
Cases remain high and medical systems in Osaka, the hardest-hit area of western Japan, are still overburdened, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in announcing the decision on Friday.
“I am aware that many people express their concern to celebrate the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” he said. “I take them seriously and will continue with the preparations for a safe Games.”
He said the next three weeks are “an extremely important time for us to get results” in a double battle to control infections as we expand vaccines.
The current state of 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 peaked.
The 20-day extension covers nine areas ranging from Hokkaido in the north to Fukuoka in the south. A tenth area, the prefecture of the southern island of Okinawa, is already in a state of emergency until June 20.
Olympic organizers have to decide, at about that time, whether to allow fans, after foreign spectators were banned months ago. According to the media, a plan is expected to be initiated to prioritize vaccinations for Japanese athletes.
The Olympics are scheduled to begin on July 23 after a one-year postponement due to the pandemic, and concerns about new variants and the slow implementation of vaccination in Japan have sparked calls from the public, medical experts and even a sponsor to cancel the games.
On Thursday, Naoto Ueyama, president of the Japanese Union of Juvenile Doctors, warned that the Games could produce a “Tokyo Olympic strain” of coronavirus and urged the cancellation to avoid a “disaster.”
Haruo Ozaki, head of Tokyo’s largest medical association with more than 20,000 members, said organizers should ban all spectators as a “minimum.”
Even under the current state of emergency, Japan’s sports venues have a capacity for 5,000 spectators or with a capacity of 50%, whichever is smaller.
Suga’s public support ratings have dropped by about 30 percent from 70 percent when he took office in September.
Experts have warned that variants infect more people, leave them seriously ill and flood hospitals in some areas.
Japan has lagged behind in vaccinations due to bureaucratic and planning errors and a lack of medical staff.
Only 2.3% of the population has been completely vaccinated and the current phase aimed at older adults is not expected to end before the Games begin.
However, Suga and his government are determined to host the Olympics. The International Olympic Committee has also said the Games will go ahead, even if the host city of Tokyo is under emergency measures.
Officials have tried to get the message home that the Games will be safe, recently announcing that the vast majority of people in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.
Despite negative polls and warnings against the Games, protests against the event usually attract a few dozen people.
The government has been pushing to speed up inoculations and aims to administer up to a million a day, but some experts say it is an overly optimistic target.
Japan has reported 739,000 cases of coronavirus and more than 12,700 deaths.