Japan extends coronavirus emergency in Tokyo, other areas as Olympics loom

Japan extends coronavirus emergency in Tokyo, other areas as Olympics loom

YASUTOSHI NISHIMURA. Japan's minister in charge of economic revitalization and measures for the novel coronavirus pandemic Yasutoshi Nishimura attends a news conference in Tokyo, Japan, Sept. 16, 2020.

Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

(3rd UPDATE) Extending the state of emergency to May 31 from May 11 will leave a margin of fewer than two months before the July 23 start of the Tokyo Olympics

Japan’s premier extended on Friday, May 7, a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May to stem a surge in novel coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of virus variants just months before the Tokyo Olympics.

The government had hoped a “short and powerful” state of emergency would contain a fourth wave of infection, but new cases in major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are still at high levels, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, announcing the decision.

Extending the state of emergency to May 31 from May 11 will leave a margin of fewer than two months before the July 23 start of the Games, which were postponed last year due to the pandemic.

“There has been a rapid rise in the number of critically ill patients and deaths,” Suga told a news conference, adding that stemming the spread of the virus from the younger population to vulnerable groups including the elderly was crucial. He also noted that variant strains of the virus were spreading rapidly.

“We will overcome this in the near future,” Suga said, promising to spearhead the government’s efforts to fast-track vaccinations, aiming to administer 1 million shots a day to the public.

Earlier, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of pandemic measures, said the government was worried Tokyo could also run out of hospital beds soon.

At one nursing home in Osaka, 61 residents were infected with the coronavirus and 14 died while waiting to be hospitalized, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Osaka prefecture reported 1,005 new cases on Friday while Tokyo had 907.

Nationwide, Japan has recorded 618,197 cases of infection and 10,585 deaths from COVID-19, the respiratory disease the virus causes, government figures showed.

Extended measures

The government also placed Aichi prefecture, home to Toyota Motor Corp, and Fukuoka prefecture in the southwest under a state of emergency – joining Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto, where current measures began on April 25.

The northern island of Hokkaido and two other prefectures were added to regions under a “quasi state of emergency,” now totaling 8 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

Under the extended state of emergency, bars, restaurants, karaoke parlors and other places serving alcohol will remain closed, while people will be urged to avoid taking unnecessary trips.

But other restrictions will be loosened.

Big commercial facilities such as shopping malls will be allowed to reopen but for shorter hours – though hard-hit Tokyo and Osaka prefecture can make their own decisions.

Tokyo will continue to keep such businesses closed, Kyodo News reported, adding that Governor Yuriko Koike would announce the decision at an upcoming news conference.

Think tanks forecast more pain for the economy ahead.

Nomura Research Institute estimated in a report the government’s latest measures would lead to a total economic loss of about 1.76 trillion yen ($16.13 billion), while Dai-ichi Life Research Institute estimated the extended and expanded states of emergency could slash 45,000 jobs.

Dai-ichi Life said household consumption in the six prefectures covered in the state of emergency accounts for about 38% of the total.

Torch relay

Japan has not suffered as badly from the virus as other countries but its vaccination campaign has been slow, with even many elderly still awaiting inoculation.

Still, Japan and the International Olympic Committee insist the Games will take place, though foreign spectators have been banned. A decision on domestic spectators will be made by June, Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto repeated on Friday.

Upcoming test events for the Olympics, including an athletics event at the weekend, will not be affected by the extension of the state of emergency. The diving World Cup, which featured more than 200 athletes from 50 countries, was held in Tokyo this past week under the current state of emergency.

But in Fukuoka, the Olympic torch relay scheduled on May 11 and 12 would be canceled on public roads in some cities, media reported, citing the prefectural governor. Hyogo prefecture is also likely keep the relay off public roads when its turn comes later this month, Kyodo said. – Rappler.com

($1 = 109.1100 yen)