Olympics vs. COVID
TOKYO (Reuters) -Olympic host city Tokyo entered a new state of emergency on Monday, less than two weeks before the Games begin amid worries about whether the measures can stem a rise in COVID-19 cases.
Organisers last week announced that spectators would be banned from nearly all venues. Spectators from abroad were already banned months ago, and officials are now asking residents to watch the Games on TV to keep the movement of people, which could spread contagion, to a minimum.
Opinion polls have consistently shown the Japanese public is concerned about going ahead with the Games during the pandemic.
Prime Mininster Yoshihide Suga’s handling of the pandemic – including an initially slow vaccination rollout – has eroded his support. The issue is especially sensitive ahead of a national election and a ruling party leadership race due later this year.
“We would ask people to support athletes from home,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on a Sunday TV programme.
The Games, postponed from last year because of the pandemic, run from July 23 to August 8, while the state of emergency – the capital’s fourth – lasts until August 22, shortly before the Paralympics begin.
The government and organisers had long seen the Games as a chance to display Japan’s recovery from a devastating 2011 earthquake and nuclear crisis.
On Saturday, the governor of Fukushima prefecture, site of the nuclear disaster, said spectators would also be banned from softball and baseball games there, reversing an earlier decision.
RISING TOKYO INFECTIONS
World No. 1 tennis player Novak Djokovic said on Sunday he was “50-50” about competing at the Tokyo Olympics following the organisers’ decision to ban fans from attending and limits on the number of people he can take to the Games.
Some of the sport’s biggest names, including Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Nick Kyrgios, Serena Williams and Simona Halep have already said that they will skip the Games.
Japan has recorded more than 815,440 COVID-19 cases and nearly 15,000 deaths.
Recent rises in Tokyo have been particularly worrisome amid a vaccination rollout that got off to a slow start and has faced supply glitches after speeding up. Only about 28% of the population has received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Tokyo recorded 502 new cases on Sunday, the 23rd straight day of week-on-week gains, and experts worry that the public has grown weary of restrictions, mostly voluntary, on activities.
The coronavirus curbs include asking restaurants to close early and to stop serving alcohol in exchange for a government subsidy, measures that have hit the eateries hard and caused many to complain of unfairness as the Games are set to go ahead.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also in charge of the pandemic response, sparked outrage when he suggested late on Thursday he would ask banks to put pressure on eateries that do not comply with the stricter measures.
In an about-face, the government’s top spokesperson Kato said on Friday it had decided banks would not be asked to press restaurants and bars that do not follow the government request to stop serving alcohol under the emergency restrictions.
On Monday, “Anyone but LDP or Komeito” was trending on Twitter, a reference to voting for political parties other than Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party or its junior coalition partner, the Komeito, in the coming parliamentary election.
“I’m not a restaurateur, but this administration that couldn’t come up with effective anti-coronavirus steps despite having a year to get ready for the Olympics… is no good,” said one angry Twitter user.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry and Gareth Jones)