The Japanese government declared on Friday April 23 a new state of emergency in Tokyo and in three other departments of Japan, three months before the start of the Olympic Games (Olympics) scheduled in the Japanese capital, in the face of a sharp local upsurge of the coronavirus. “Today, we have decided to declare a state of emergency in the prefectures of Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo”, announced the Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, referring to the increase in variants in new infections.
The measures will be stricter than the previous state of emergency imposed in parts of the country in January, while remaining much lighter than lockdowns decreed in other parts of the world for more than a year. Establishments serving alcohol (restaurants, bars, karaoke…) will have to close their doors from this Sunday until May 11 inclusive, as well as shopping centers and department stores.
“We have a strong sense of crisis, said the Japanese minister in charge of the fight against the virus, Yasutoshi Nishimura earlier today. We will not be able to contain the variants that have potent infectious capacities, unless we take stronger action than so far. “
No impact on the Olympics, according to the authorities
For local media, these measures, which will coincide with the holidays of the “Golden Week”, a period of the year when the Japanese usually travel a lot, could involve the suspension of certain train and bus lines to limit mobility.
The authorities of the prefectures concerned are also likely to prohibit spectator access to sporting events, but officials insisted that the emergency measures would have no impact on the organization of the Tokyo Olympics.
The Japanese archipelago, which very quickly closed its borders in 2020, experienced a relatively limited health crisis, with less than 10,000 deaths linked to Covid-19 officially recorded since January 2020. But infections have increased during the winter, despite a second state of emergency in much of the country, and rebounded again after the mechanism was lifted in March. Authorities in Osaka, the current worst-affected prefecture, said local health facilities were already overwhelmed.
Vaccination in Japan is progressing at a snail’s pace, between medical caution, regulatory brakes and bureaucratic red tape: less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated so far. The organizers of the Olympics nevertheless assure that the pace of the deployment will have no impact on the event. They have already banned access to audiences from abroad, and have yet to decide how many local spectators could be admitted.
“We will be able to organize the Games even without vaccination, the general manager of the Tokyo Olympics, Toshiro Muto, told reporters on Wednesday. Of course, if vaccines are available, that would be an advantage (…). But as far as we are concerned, regardless of the vaccine, we will take strong measures against Covid-19 to be able to organize the Games. “