Tokyo's new Covid-19 state of emergency to last through Olympics: Media

New infections in Tokyo rose 26 per cent to 4,422 over the seven days from the previous week.
New infections in Tokyo rose 26 per cent to 4,422 over the seven days from the previous week.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japan is set to declare a fresh Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo, domestic media said on Wednesday (July 7), citing sources, as the capital set 920 new cases in the highest one-day tally since May 13.

The decision, which will likely take effect from next Monday and last until Aug 22, will place Tokyo under emergency measures through the Olympic Games that will run from July 23 to Aug 8.

This comes amid a spike in cases - new infections in Tokyo rose 26 per cent to 4,422 over the seven days ending Wednesday from the previous week - as the national vaccination drive hits a major supply roadblock.

The state of emergency will be the fourth to be declared in Tokyo, and will replace the loose Covid-19 curbs under a so-called "quasi-emergency" that was set to expire on Sunday.

Details, including the areas it will cover, are due to be firmed up in Cabinet meetings on Thursday.

Tokyo and its neighbouring areas of Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa, which are collectively home to more than 35 million people, are currently under "quasi-emergency" measures.

One main change will be a ban on dine-in alcohol service, compared to the current 7pm curfew under the "quasi-emergency".

Full compliance may be a challenge, however, given that the penalty is a potential fine of 300,000 yen (S$3,640) - a slap on the wrist, compared to the windfall that comes from quenching the thirst of a public whose patience has worn thin.

Tokyo has been under either a state of emergency or a "quasi-emergency" for all but four weeks this year.

Voters were clear in their rebuke of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election on Sunday, when it failed to win a clear majority in a major upset.

With an emergency declaration, the Olympics will now likely be held behind closed doors, with no domestic spectators allowed in stadiums. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last month that he hoped the Games could take place before a live audience of up to 10,000 people at large venues.

A volunteer holding a placard asking people to refrain from watching the competition while an athlete competes in the half-marathon race which doubles as a test event for the Olympics, in Sapporo on May 5, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Japan's vaccination drive - which had kicked into high gear and recently hit the much-vaunted target of one million doses a day - has stalled amid logistical chaos.

The central government stopped taking new applications for workplace and university inoculation drives as demand vastly exceeded supply.

Local governments - including the cities of Chiba, Osaka, Kobe and Sendai - said they would suspend new reservations due to a dire shortage of doses.

The cities saw a significant drop in supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines that they expected to get, and opted to prioritise second shots.

The Health Ministry said it could supply only 12.4 million doses between July 19 and 31, about one-third of what the municipalities requested.

The central government has stopped taking new applications for workplace and university vaccination drives as demand has vastly exceeded supply. PHOTO: AFP

The logjam seems to stem from the central government's vaccination record system (VRS), used to track progress and assign new batches of doses to municipalities that are running short.

The habitual reliance on pen-and-paper record-keeping meant that many municipalities failed to record in real time the daily Covid-19 doses administered.

Some reportedly updated the data up to a month after the jabs were given.

This caused the central government to assume that the municipalities were holding onto a larger supply of doses, with the outdated information leading to chaos in supply distribution.

Making matters worse is that fewer vaccines seem to be available.

While Moderna is supposed to have provided Japan with 40 million doses by June, this was reduced to 13.7 million amid an agreement with the company to redirect supply elsewhere.

Japan also expects to have to cut shipments of Pfizer vaccines to municipalities by about 40 per cent from next month.

While Japan has approved AstraZeneca vaccines, these are not used domestically over reports of rare cases of blood clots abroad, and are used in its vaccine diplomacy campaign, with donations to Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Pacific Islands.

The supply issues have appalled local governments that have been ramping up inoculations on the request of the central government.

An official in Aomori prefecture told Asahi Shimbun: "We were told to pick up the pace. Now it feels like the ladder has been kicked away."

Japan has administered 52.6 million doses as of July 6, according to the VRS records, with 31.6 million people, or 25 per cent of the population, having received at least their first dose.