Olympics likely to open during Covid ‘state of emergency’

Published July 8, 2021
People wearing face masks walk past the Olympics Rings statue in Tokyo on July 8. — AP
People wearing face masks walk past the Olympics Rings statue in Tokyo on July 8. — AP

TOKYO: Surging Covid-19 cases in Tokyo have hit a two-month high that almost guarantees the Japanese government will declare a new state of emergency to start next week and continue for the duration of the Tokyo Olympics.

The pandemic-delayed Olympics open in just over two weeks on July 23.

IOC President Thomas Bach is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday, when he will be greeted by the rising cases as he self-isolates for three days in the International Olympic Committee’s five-star hotel in the capital.

A new state of emergency — less strict than a blanket lockdown — could lead to a ban even on local fans. That decision on fans is expected on Friday when local organisers meet with the IOC and others.

The present quasi-state of emergency ends Sunday. Tokyo reported 920 new cases on Wednesday, up from 714 last Wednesday. It is the highest total since 1,010 were reported on May 13.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with key ministers to discuss virus measures and reportedly is considering reinstating a state of emergency in the capital until August 22. The Olympics end on August 8.

Suga did not confirm the report but noted Tokyo’s upsurge and vowed to do “everything we can to prevent the further spread of the infections”.

Suga said he would make a final decision on Thursday after consulting with a panel of experts.

Fans from abroad were banned from attending the Olympics months ago. But just two weeks ago, organisers and the IOC decided to allow venues to be filed to 50% of capacity but not to exceed 10,000.

The soaring cases are likely to mean that venues will be without any fans, although sponsors and others may have access. The no-fan atmosphere could include the opening ceremony at the $1.4 billion National Stadium.

“The infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it,” Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, told reporters.

He urged authorities to quickly take tough measures ahead of the Olympics with summer vacations approaching.

“The period from July to September is the most critical time for Japans Covid-19 measures,” Omi said.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters that she expects the government to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo, a fourth for the capital since the pandemic began early last year.

Separately, a government Covid-19 advisory panel met Wednesday and expressed concerns about the ongoing resurgence of the infections.

“Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas,” said Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

Earlier on Wednesday Toshiro Muto, the chief executive of the organising committee, said organisers were striving to ensure safety for everyone with effective public health measures against Covid-19.

Muto, addressing the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva by a recorded video, added: “Through the successful hosting of the Tokyo 2020 Games, we hope to show the world that people have the right to live healthier and happier lives, even in difficult circumstances.”

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2021

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