Tokyo Olympics 2020: Japan extends coronavirus emergency for two more weeks for Tokyo area

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga sought understanding for a two-week extension he said will be the last.

The Associated Press March 05, 2021 18:04:54 IST
Tokyo Olympics 2020: Japan extends coronavirus emergency for two more weeks for Tokyo area

A Tokyo resident takes pictures of the illuminated Olympic rings in front of the Rainbow Bridge in the Odaiba district of Tokyo. AP Photo

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that his government is extending a state of emergency in the Tokyo region for another two weeks because its medical systems are still strained by COVID-19 patients.

At a government coronavirus taskforce meeting on Friday night, Suga said the emergency will be extended through 21 March for Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures, where the ongoing measure was to end on Sunday.

He said medical systems in the region were still burdened with COVID-19 patients and more hospital beds have to be freed.

Suga declared a monthlong emergency on 7 January for Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba that was later extended through 7 March. An emergency that applied to other urban prefectures was lifted last week, underscoring the government’s eagerness to allow businesses to return to normal as soon as possible.

The state of emergency, which is a non-binding request, centers around asking restaurants, bars and other businesses to voluntarily close at 8 pm. Japan has never had a mandatory lockdown, but has managed to keep infections relatively low with social distancing and such voluntary measures.

Suga sought understanding for a two-week extension he said will be the last.

“I will do everything we can to prevent a rebound of the infections and another state of emergency,” Suga said at a Parliament session.

Experts were divided over whether two weeks would be enough to get the infections under control, as concerns are running high before the spring cherry blossom season, when many people come out and party.

Controlling the spread of the virus, along with progress in vaccination, is considered key for Japan as Tokyo is to host the Olympics, already delayed by one year because of the virus and due to start 23 July.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the heads of neighboring prefectures had raised concerns that a lifting of the emergency this weekend could trigger a quick rebound in infections.

Dr Shigeru Omi, a former World Health Organization regional director and head of the government COVID-19 taskforce, said on Friday that the Tokyo region is prone to a resurgence and urged authorities to set up “a strong system” to prevent a rebound.

Daily new cases in Tokyo have decreased significantly after peaking at about 2,000 in early January, but the decline has slowed recently. Tokyo on Friday reported 301 new cases, up from 278 the day before, raising its total to 1,12,925. Nationwide, Japan had reported more than 4,36,000 cases and about 8,000 deaths as of Thursday.

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