The Tokyo Olympics appeared to be on even shakier ground on Friday as Japan extended a state of emergency — just eleven weeks before the Games are slated to open.
It was just another worrying step taken just before the country begins to host Olympic athletes who need to come to the country to become acclimated and train before competition starts.
The state of emergency for the Tokyo area and several other regions was extended until the end of May in an effort to stem the current surge in the number of coronavirus cases just as the world gears up for the Olympic Games that have already been delayed one year.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the measures during a meeting of his government’s coronavirus task force, explaining that such restrictions were now necessary because the rate of infection is still at what he called a “high level, mainly in large cities.”
Tokyo Olympics will take place in nation with extremely low vaccination rate
Friday’s new measures are an extension of the emergency measures imposed in April to two additional prefectures for a total of six prefectures that are currently under the strictures — including the cities of Tokyo and Osaka as well.
All together these areas contain more than one third of the entire population of Japan, which is 126 million.
The Japanese government has already imposed two states of emergency at different times in the course of the pandemic, although they were less stringent than the total lockdowns as seen in many nations across the globe.
Under the extended state of emergency in place now and until the end of May, all Japanese citizens are asked not to go out for nonessential reasons, especially after 8 p.m. They are also asked to cease any travel outside their own prefectures.
All karaoke parlors have been requested to close, and restaurants have also been requested not to serve alcohol; fines of up to 300,000 yen, or $2,750, for noncompliance, will be issued to violators.
Japan has 6,000 new coronavirus cases per day at present
At present, residents of another eight Japanese regions will be forced to live under restrictions that are not quite as draconian.
Japan, which escaped the first wave of coronavirus infection for the most part, was affected later than many other countries, but appears to be making up for lost time as it suffers under a fourth wave of the coronavirus — while it has one of the worst vaccination rates of any country at present, just eleven weeks before the Tokyo Olympics.
The country’s “Golden Week,” normally a time when people travel and take in the apple blossoms and other delights of the Spring during four national holidays, saw a tightening of the restrictions, but they were supposed to be lifted next week after the threat of increased infection rates would supposedly have been lessened.
The country, however, is now experiencing 6,000 new cases every day, as opposed to the 1,000 daily coronavirus cases that were diagnosed per day back in early March, according to research taken from a New York Times database.
Coronavirus variants are playing an ever-increasing part in this disturbing increase in Japan; at present, 26 cases of the virus mutation that was first recorded in India have been detected in the country.
At present, Japanese authorities say that as many as four out of five coronavirus cases in Tokyo can be traced back to someone who had engaged in foreign travel or was a contact of a person who had recently returned from such a journey.
Moderna vaccine has still not been approved for use in Japan
Even Japan’s advanced health care system, which can favorably be compared to almost any other such system in the world in quality of care, is facing unprecedented pressure, with 370 patients being treated for what are termed “serious” cases in Osaka. The medical facilities in the city of nine million residents cannot absorb that many people who are critically ill.
At present, Japan has had more than 620,000 coronavirus infections, with 10,000 deaths linked to the virus.
But the extraordinarily slow pace of vaccination approval and rollout has led to many in Japanese society to balk at the idea of staging the postponed Games in July as planned.
According to the New York Times report, there is widespread opposition now to the Olympic Games, which require tens of thousands of volunteers- the vast majority of whom have not been vaccinated.
At a time when 45.5% of Americans have received at least one dose, with 32.7% fully vaccinated and 68% of Britons have received at least one dose and 31.75% are now fully vaccinated, only 2.4% of Japanese citizens have had one inoculation — and only .9% of them are fully vaccinated.
As of this week, the Pfizer shot is the only vaccine in use in Japan, with the Japanese health authorities expected to OK the Moderna shot as early as May 21. The reason w hy it has taken so long for the country to approve the vaccine is not clear.
The first batch of the Moderna vaccine only arrived in the country on April 30 — almost four full months after it began being used in the United States. The government expects to use it in mass vaccination centers in hard-hit Tokyo and Osaka after it is approved in May.
Japan has inked an agreement with the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical firm for 50 million doses of the vaccine, enough for 25 million people, or about one-fifth of the entire population of the country.
Toru Hashimoto, a lawyer and former governor of Osaka prefecture, told television interviewers on Friday that Olympic organizers were not paying sufficient attention to the latest coronavirus outbreak. In addition, he stated that it was not appropriate to be holding test events before the Olympics considering the viral situation at present — even though there are no spectators.
“If the government wants to reduce the number of people in the city, it’s not a time when test events can be held,” Hashimoto stated.