State-of-emergency measures in Tokyo to be lifted as Olympic Games loom
The Japanese Government has approved lifting Covid-19 emergency measures in Tokyo, a month before the start of the Olympic Games.
The state of emergency has been in place in the host city since April but the restrictions will come to an end on Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced yesterday. However, they will remain in place in other cities across the nation, including in Okinawa.
“The number of infections nationwide has been declining since mid-May and the situation in terms of hospital beds is steadily improving,” Suga said. “On the other hand, in some regions there are signs that the fall in the number of infections is slowing.”
In place of the emergency, the Government will implement so-called “quasi-emergency” measures in Tokyo and six other areas until July 11.
These measures will slightly relax the rules on some restrictions across the city but restaurants and bars will still have to to shut at 8pm.
Crucially, with just 35 days until the Games begin, Tokyo is likely to maintain strict limits on the number of spectators allowed at large events.
The present state of emergency allows only 5,000 people or 50 per cent of venue capacity, whichever is smaller. On Wednesday, the Government approved an upper limit of 10,000 spectators for areas not under any restrictions. Those rules are likely to guide Olympic organisers when they decide in the coming days how many domestic fans, if any, will be allowed to attend.
Overseas fans have already been banned from the Olympics – for the first time – and organisers said they would wait to rule on domestic spectators until the emergency was lifted.
However, while cases in Japan have fallen from their fourth-wave peak, some medical professionals fear crowds of Olympic spectators could ignite a new surge of positive cases.
Some of the Government’s top medical advisers are also arguing that staging the Games without fans would be safest option regardless. If Japanese spectators are permitted, health experts will urge additional rules be imposed to minimise the risk of a surge in infections.
Japan has seen a comparatively small virus outbreak, with slightly more than 14,000 deaths despite avoiding harsh lock downs. However, only six per cent of the population is fully vaccinated to date, causing further concern of another surge in cases.
With just over a month until the Games start on July 23, organisers are still desperately attempting to build confidence that the biggest international event since the pandemic began will be safe for participants and the public.
Newly updated virus rule books released earlier this week warned athletes could be expelled from the Olympics if they violated restrictions such as as mask-wearing and daily testing.
Organisers have claimed more than 80 per cent of athletes will be vaccinated but they will be required to refrain from talking in confined spaces and will also be barred from interacting with the Japanese public.
The 11,000 expected competitors at the Games, along with support staff and media, have also been told they cannot speak to a driver in an official vehicle – and will face the threat of fines, disqualification, medals being taken away and even deportation for repeated or “malicious” offences.
However, organisers have confirmed that anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 will not be disqualified – and that they will still pick up a medal if they are entitled to one at the time.
Referring to events such as boxing and football where finals have a winner and a loser, the International Olympic Committee sports director, Kit McConnell, added: “If an athlete would have taken part in a medal event but cannot, they will receive the minimum level of medal they would have received.
“For example, in a final they will receive a silver medal. That’s really important from our perspective to reflect the minimum level that athlete or team would have achieved.”
Meanwhile, recent polls have suggested a slight shift in public opposition to holding the Games, with more now in favour of the event going ahead as opposed to cancelling it. Previous surveys that offered postponement as an option tended to show most Japanese preferred either another delay or cancellation altogether.