TOKYO, APR 16 – Japan is set to expand quasi-emergency measures to 10 regions on Friday as a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases spreads, casting more doubt on whether the Summer Olympics can be held in Tokyo in less than 100 days.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters the government was considering adding Aichi, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba to six other prefectures already under the orders, including the cities of Tokyo and Osaka.
A final decision is expected on Friday afternoon.
Japan’s top health experts have acknowledged that the Covid-19 pandemic has entered a fourth wave.
Daily cases in Osaka reached a record 1,208 on Thursday, driven by a virulent British strain of the virus. New infections rose to 729 in Tokyo, the most since early February when most of the nation was under a state of emergency.
A senior ruling party official said on Thursday that cancelling this year’s Olympics remains an option if the coronavirus situation becomes too dire.
A scaled-back torch relay is already underway. Overseas fans have been barred from the Games and officials say that domestic fans may be kept out too.
Olympic and government officials have said further postponement of the Games is out of the question, and Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said on Friday that their commitment to holding the event this summer has not wavered.
But a groundswell of health experts have said it’s too risky to hold the Games, urging that they be postponed again or canceled. Compounding the problem is Japan’s relatively slow inoculation push, which began February using imported vaccines.
Japan has exhibited ‘poor performance’ in containing virus transmission, along with limited testing capacity and a slow vaccination rollout, according to a commentary of health experts published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday.
‘Plans to hold the Olympic and Paralympic games this summer must be reconsidered as a matter of urgency,’ wrote lead author Kazuki Shimizu of the London School of Economics.
‘Holding Tokyo 2020 for domestic political and economic purposes–ignoring scientific and moral imperatives–is contradictory to Japan’s commitment to global health and human security.’
A survey of more than 1,000 Japanese doctors last month showed that 75% believed it was better to postpone the Games, according to physician referral company Ishinotomo.
Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, an advisor to the government’s pandemic response, urged in a magazine commentary this week that authorities postpone the Olympics one year to allow for more time to vaccinate the public.
Japan began its inoculation push in February, later than most major economies. Only 0.9% of the Japanese public have received their first shot so far, compared with 2.5% in South Korea, and 48% in the United Kingdom.
Japan’s government denied reports last week that it would prioritise athletes for vaccination. Australia is one nation considering such a move.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday the government would do ‘everything possible’ to prevent further contagion ahead of the Games.
Suga, currently on a state visit to the United States, may have a call with Pfizer Inc CEO Albert Bourla to request more vaccine supplies, the Kyodo news agency reported, citing government sources.