Japan considering downgraded emergency state until Tokyo Games start - Report

New coronavirus infections in Olympics city Tokyo have inched down during the last month of emergency restrictions although authorities remain concerned about the spread of variants and the continued strain on medical resources.

Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics organisers and the IOC are insistent they will go ahead despite polls in Japan showing 60-80 per cent want them called off.   -  REUTERS

The Japanese government is considering ending a state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures as scheduled on June 20, but keeping a downgraded "quasi-emergency" state until the Tokyo Olympics start in July, the Mainichi daily has reported.

New coronavirus infections in Olympics city Tokyo have inched down during the last month of emergency restrictions although authorities remain concerned about the spread of variants and the continued strain on medical resources.

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On Friday, the head of Japan's main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Edano, called for the global sporting event to be postponed or cancelled, warning there was an "extremely high risk" of an explosive outbreak in August and September if they went ahead.

The Mainichi newspaper reported on Friday that the government would ask restaurants to keep shorter hours and impose other curbs under the targeted quasi-emergency measures. Bars and restaurants are now asked to close by 8 p.m. and are banned from serving alcohol.

A final decision is expected late next week, a few days before the end of the current emergency state, which also covers the northern island of Hokkaido, host of the marathon event.

Polls have shown a majority of the Japanese public opposes holding the Games this year, worried about the flood of athletes and officials from overseas. Japan has effectively been closed to foreign visitors since the pandemic broke out last year. The Japanese government and Olympic organisers have said the Games would go ahead - barring "Armageddon", as one International Olympic Committee (IOC) member put it. The Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23.

- Not too late -

A Tokyo 2020 Olympic coronavirus expert, Nobuhiko Okabe, said completely shutting out the virus would be too difficult and the focus should be on minimising risk.

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"Unfortunately, keeping the number (of coronavirus infections) to zero is impossible, so I believe the focus should be on minimising the number as much as possible," he told a news conference, adding the cooperation of athletes and delegates was vital to prevent a major outbreak.

Opposition leader Edano said it was not too late to cancel or postpone the Games. "I can understand the desire to go ahead for the sake of the athletes, but they should either postpone for another year or cancel the Games," Edano told a news conference.

A team of experts led by government adviser Hiroshi Nishiura said this week Japan could be forced to declare another state of emergency in August if the current measures were lifted on June 20, since summer holidays and the Games could spark a rise in infections and a spread of new variants.

In another potential headache for prime minister Yoshihide Suga's government, the minister for digital transformation apologised for telling bureaucrats they should "threaten" the developer of a smartphone app aimed at monitoring the health of foreign visitors to the Games to force a reduction in cost, media reported.

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Olympics organisers decided in March to ban spectators from abroad. Hirai's comments sparked outrage on social media. "As one responsible for the people's precious tax money, I strongly wanted to eradicate waste," Kyodo news agency quoted Takuya Hirai as telling reporters. "The expression was inappropriate and I want to be careful in future."

Japan has recorded more than 760,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 13,800 deaths, while only 12 per cent of its population has received at least one vaccination shot. The country plans to finish vaccinating all those who want shots by October-November, Suga said in parliament this week.

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