Japan extends virus emergency again

Move fuels doubts about whether 2020 Games can go ahead safely or not


AFP May 28, 2021

TOKYO:

Japan's government on Friday extended a coronavirus emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country until just a month before the Olympics, fuelling doubts about whether the Games can go ahead safely.

Organisers said they would now wait to make a decision on whether to allow local fans at the Games until the emergency ends on June 20, just weeks before the opening ceremony.

Overseas fans have already been barred, in an unprecedented decision as organisers battle to convince Japan's sceptical public that the Games can go ahead and will be safe.

Japan has seen a comparatively small virus outbreak, with around 12,500 deaths, and has avoided tough lockdowns. But a fourth wave has prompted the government to put emergency measures in place in 10 regions including the capital.

The measures mostly limit the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants and ask them to close early, while encouraging telework and capping audience numbers at events.

"The number of new cases has been declining since the middle of the month but the situation continues to be uncertain," said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, announcing the extension.

Experts fear lifting the restrictions too soon could create a surge in the run-up to the Games.

The decision means Tokyo and nine other parts of the country will be under states of emergency until June 20, casting fresh doubt on the prospects for the pandemic-postponed Olympics.

Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto told reporters that with the measures being taken "we expect the infection situation to improve".

But she acknowledged that a decision on local fans, originally expected in early June, would now not be taken until the end of the month.

"Once the state of emergency is lifted, we will assess how many spectators we can allow in," she said, adding that there could be different rules for indoor and outdoor venues and the decision would be based on government guidelines.

Even under the current state of emergency, sports venues in Japan are allowed to seat 5,000 spectators or 50 percent capacity, whichever is smallest.

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