State of emergency in Tokyo casts new shadow over Olympics
Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese prime minister, has today declared a new state of emergency in Tokyo amid rising coronavirus cases, raising fresh doubts about the plans for this year’s Olympic Games.
With effect from today, residents have been requested to stay at home where possible, with office numbers reduced and restaurants, bars, shops and entertainment and sports facilities subject to shorter opening hours.
Events will be capped at 5,000 spectators or 50 per cent of venue capacity.
The move came after Tokyo confirmed a new daily record of 2,447 Covid-19 cases for Wednesday, with Suga saying at a meeting of the Japanese government’s task force on the pandemic response: “The situation has worsened recently nationwide, and I feel a strong sense of crisis. We will take thorough steps.”
Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike had been pressing for a second state of emergency, citing the impact coronavirus is having on the health care system, albeit the measures are not as strong as those imposed in the first wave last spring.
The coronavirus spike and Suga’s action will have come as a setback to the Tokyo 2020 organisers and the International Olympic Committee, with the games already delayed from last year because of the global pandemic.
The Olympics are due to take place from 23 July to 8 August, and followed by the Paralympics from 24 August to 5 September.
The IOC has repeatedly expressed confidence that the games will be able to proceed this year, putting its faith in mass testing, vaccines and quarantines to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.
Indeed, only yesterday, Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee from Canada, insisted that athletes should be prioritised in national vaccination programmes
He told the UK’s Sky News channel: "In Canada where we might have 300 or 400 athletes - to take 300 or 400 vaccines out of several million in order to have Canada represented at an international event of this stature, character and level - I don't think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that.
"It's a decision for each country to make and there will be people saying they are jumping the queue, but I think that is the most realistic way of it going ahead."
While not going as far as to advocate this measure, the IOC has been working on various scenarios for the staging of the Olympics, with or without overseas spectators, and said yesterday it would be making “all efforts to have as many foreign participants as possible” vaccinated before the games.
It added: “Together with the National Olympic Committees, we will make all the efforts so that the NOCs encourage and assist their athletes, their officials and their stakeholders to get vaccinated before they come to Japan.
“We are doing so, of course, in order to contribute even more to the safe environment in the Games, but also out of respect for the Japanese people because they should be confident that everything is being done to not only protect the participants, but also the Japanese people, by having as many of the visitors as possible being vaccinated.”
The IOC and the Tokyo 2020 organisers have previously conceded that cancellation, rather than a further postponement, is the only course of action if the games cannot be held this year.
At the end of last month, all 68 domestic sponsors of the Olympics and Paralympics reached agreement to extend their deals to cover the events in 2021, with their total contribution now expected to reach $3.5 billion.