Virus emergency called in Games host Tokyo

·2-min read

Japan has declared "short and powerful" states of emergency for Olympic host city Tokyo, Osaka and two other prefectures as it struggles to contain a resurgent coronavirus pandemic just three months out from the Games.

Under a new state of emergency for April 25 to May 11, the government will require restaurants, bars, and karaoke parlours serving alcohol to close, and big sporting events to be held without spectators, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday.

"We absolutely have to limit the movement of people, and we have to do it decisively. We need powerful, short and focused measures," Nishimura said.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the new restrictions after they were formally approved by a government task force.

Tokyo Olympic organisers said the leg of the torch relay in Okinawa's Miyakojima island would not be held on public roads because the region is currently subject to priority measures for containing the spread of the coronavirus.

Department stores, cinemas and other commercial facilities larger than 1000 square metres will need to close while companies will be asked to make allowances for people to work from home. Schools will remain open.

Mask-wearing, staying home and other measures for the general public remain non-mandatory requests, and experts worry if they will be followed.

The state of emergency - a third round for Japan that also includes Kyoto and Hyogo - will cover nearly a quarter of the population and last through the "Golden Week" holidays, dealing a further blow to the tourism and services industries.

Japan has so far avoided an explosive spread of the pandemic that has crippled many countries. There have been a total of about 550,000 cases and 9761 deaths, which is significantly lower than the numbers seen in other large economies.

But the latest rise in infections has stoked alarm, with a surge in the mutant variant and a critical shortage of medical staff and hospital beds in some areas. Japan's vaccination drive remains sluggish.

Organisers of the Tokyo Motor Show on Thursday cancelled the marquee event for this year, in a move likely to raise more questions about the government's insistence that the Olympics will go ahead this summer after a year's delay.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto insisted organisers were not considering cancelling.

"I hope the coronavirus situation improves with the countermeasures the government, Tokyo, and other regional governments have put into place," she told a news conference.

"We, as Tokyo 2020, continue to wish for the swift return to normalcy and will continue to work closely with the relevant parties to make sure a safe and secure Olympics can happen."

Tokyo reported 759 new infections on Friday, down from 861 a day earlier when the tally was the highest since Jan. 29, during the previous state of emergency.

Several other prefectures remain in a "quasi-emergency" state of targeted infection controls, and Nishimura said the duration would also be extended to May 11 for some.