Japan expands viral emergency ahead of Tokyo Olympics

TOKYO (AP) – Japan on Friday further extended a state of emergency to coronaviruses from six regions, including Tokyo, to nine, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated his determination to hold the Olympics in a little more two months.

Japan are struggling to slow down infections before games. The three additions are the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, where the Olympic marathon will be held, and Hiroshima and Okayama in western Japan.

Despite the worsening infections, Suga stressed his commitment to running the games safely while protecting the Japanese by strictly controlling the movements of foreign participants, including possibly expelling journalists covering the event if they violate regulations. .

“I understand that there are various difficulties, but the priority is to stop the spread of infections and to protect people’s lives and health,” Suga said.

The three additional areas will join Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures already under emergency coronavirus restrictions until May 31, Suga announced at a government task force meeting on Friday. Bars, karaoke lounges, and most entertainment facilities are to close. Business owners who comply will be compensated; those who fail to do so could face fines.

“Infections are escalating extremely quickly in populated areas,” Suga said. “As new variants continue to spread, we felt that now is a very important time to stop the spread of infections.”

It was the second extension of the emergency in just a week. Suga declared a state of emergency – the third in Japan – in four prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, from April 25, then extended it to six prefectures last Friday. Despite emergency measures, infections continue to spread to larger areas of Japan instead of slowing down.

In the worst-affected region of Osaka, hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients. Many wait at home or in hotels with oxygen, and more than a dozen have died without being able to access a hospital room. Treatment for the coronavirus in Japan is largely limited to public or university hospitals, where treatment of non-COVID-19 patients has been greatly reduced.

Dr Shigeru Omi, who heads a panel of government experts, urged organizers to carefully consider the additional burden Olympic participants will place on already strained medical systems.

Suga said he would decide on a possible further extension of the emergency by assessing the viral situation at the end of May.

His government is under heavy pressure from the public, increasingly frustrated by the slow rollout of vaccines and repeated emergency declarations. Many now oppose the July 23-August organization. 8 Olympics, and people seem less cooperative with non-mandatory stay-at-home and social distancing requests.

Less than 2% of the public have been fully vaccinated in Japan, one of the least vaccinated in the world.

The expansion of the state of emergency is a major change from the government’s original plan, which was based on less stringent measures.

The addition of Hiroshima to the areas covered by emergency measures comes just days after Japanese organizers announced that next week’s visit by President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach to mark Hiroshima’s stage of the torch relay had been canceled.

Earlier Friday, the organizers of a petition calling for the Olympic Games to be canceled submitted more than 350,000 signatures to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, which have been collected since early May. The petition says the money spent on games would be better spent on those in need due to the pandemic.

Japan reported 6,800 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, bringing its total to 665,547 with 11,255 deaths.

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