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Olympics – State of emergency begins in host city Tokyo as Games approach


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A woman wearing a protective mask, after the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), takes a picture of the Olympic ring promoting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, July 12, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo Olympic host city Tokyo entered a new state of emergency on Monday, less than two weeks before the Games start amid concerns about whether measures could stem the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Organizers announced last week that spectators will be banned from nearly all venues. Outside spectators have already been banned for months, and officials are now asking residents to watch games on TV to keep the movement of people, which can spread infection, to a minimum.

Polls have consistently shown that the Japanese public is concerned about moving forward with games during the pandemic.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s handling of the pandemic – including the initially slow start of vaccination – has eroded his support. The issue is particularly sensitive ahead of national elections and the ruling party’s leadership race scheduled for later this year.

“We are asking people to support the athletes from home,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on a TV show on Sunday.

The Games, which were postponed from last year due to the pandemic, will run from July 23 to August 8, while the state of emergency – the capital’s fourth – will run until August 22, shortly before the start of the Paralympics.

The government and organizers have long viewed the Games as an opportunity to show Japan’s recovery from the devastating 2011 earthquake and nuclear crisis.

On Saturday, the governor of Fukushima Prefecture, the site of the nuclear disaster, said spectators would also be banned from playing softball and baseball games there, reversing an earlier decision.

Tokyo infections rise

World number one tennis player Novak Djokovic said on Sunday he was “50-50” about competing in the Tokyo Olympics after organizers decided to ban fans from attending and limit the number of people they can take to the games.

Some of the sport’s biggest names, including Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Nick Kyrgios, Serena Williams and Simona Halep have already said they will skip the Games.

Japan has recorded more than 815,440 cases of COVID-19 and nearly 15,000 deaths.

Recent hikes in Tokyo have been particularly worrisome amid the vaccination launch that got off to a slow start and faced supply problems after accelerating. Only about 28% of the population has received at least one injection of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Tokyo recorded 502 new cases on Sunday, the 23rd consecutive day of weekly gains, and experts are concerned the public is tired of restrictions, mostly voluntary, on activities.

The coronavirus restrictions include requiring restaurants to close early and to stop serving alcohol in exchange for government subsidies, measures that have severely affected restaurants and caused many to complain of unfairness as the Games are scheduled to kick off.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also responsible for responding to the pandemic, sparked outrage when he suggested late Thursday that he would require banks to pressure restaurants that do not adhere to the stricter measures.

Changing his face, the government’s spokesperson, Kato, said on Friday that it had decided not to ask banks to pressure restaurants and bars that do not follow the government’s order to stop serving alcohol under the emergency restrictions.

On Monday, “anyone but the LDP or Komeito” was trending on Twitter, referring to voting for political parties other than Suga’s ruling LDP or its junior coalition partner, Komeito, in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

One angry Twitter user said: “I’m not a restaurateur, but this management who couldn’t come up with effective steps to combat coronavirus despite having a year to prepare for the Olympics…Not good.”

(Reporting by Linda Seig) Editing by Michael Perry and Gareth Jones





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