Japan mulling downgraded Covid-19 emergency state until Olympics start

Polls have shown that most Japanese oppose holding the Games this year.
Polls have shown that most Japanese oppose holding the Games this year.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (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 Olympics start in July, the Mainichi daily reported.

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

The newspaper reported on Friday (June 11) 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 8pm and 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 Hokkaido, host of the marathon event.

Polls have shown that most Japanese oppose holding the Games, worried about the flood of athletes and officials from overseas. The country has effectively been closed to foreign visitors since the pandemic broke out last year.

The Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23.

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 spread of new variants. 

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 inoculating all those who want jabs by October-November, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in parliament this week.