Japan announces easing of virus emergency ahead of Olympics

Japan on Thursday announced relief efforts for a coronavirus emergency in Tokyo and six other areas from next week, with new cases every day slowing down as the country begins preparations for the Olympics that begin more than a month ago.

Japan has been struggling since late March to reduce the number of infectious diseases, with new cases rising more than 7,000 at a time and critically ill patients taking hospitals in Tokyo, Osaka and other major cities.

Daily charges have dropped dramatically, paving the way for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to reduce the state of emergency that ends on Sunday with drastic measures. The new steps will last until July 11 – just 12 days before the Games.

Suga said the freeways would focus on the initial closure of bars and restaurants.

In the event of further increase and distress to hospitals, “we will take immediate action, including the strengthening of measures,” Suga said, referring to concerns about medical professionals.

Holding the Olympics ahead of the autumn elections is also Suga’s political gambling, whose support is downwardly dissatisfied with the way he handles the epidemic, slow-moving vaccines and a lack of clarity on how he intends to ensure the virus does not spread during the Olympics.

Experts at a conference on Thursday gave their approval for the government’s emergency mitigation plans in Tokyo, Aichi, Hokkaido, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka.

“We must do all we can, and provide strong financial support as well,” to reduce the risk of disease recurrence, said Dr Shigeru Omi, head of the government’s COVID-19 panel.

Japan announces easing of virus emergency ahead of Olympics
Japan announces easing of virus emergency ahead of Olympics

Japan does not force hard locks and the emergency situation allows state leaders to order closures or short hours of unimportant business. Those who obey are compensated and those who break the law are punished. Staying at home with other people’s steps is only a request and is increasingly being ignored.

At a parliamentary health and labor committee last week, Omi warned that hosting the Olympics in the middle of the epidemic was “unusual” and warned that it would increase the chances of infection.

A team of experts on Wednesday released a simulation showing a possible escapism of the situation during the Olympics when the spread of new diversity and human movement increased after the reduction of emergency measures.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura told the media that the government would not hesitate to issue another urgent proclamation even during the Olympics to protect people’s lives.

The emergency will remain in Okinawa, where hospitals are still in a state of disarray, while Hiroshima and Okayama will be removed from the list.

Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases who heads the government advisory board COVID-19, said the infection had subsided in many areas, but was declining in the Tokyo region. He warned that infection could increase and that symptoms of relapse had already appeared in young people.

Although more people are getting jabs and most of the 36 million older people are expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of July, young people are not vaccinated and infections among them could soon spread to hospitals, Wakita said.

“To prevent further violence, it is important to prevent people from roaming during the Olympics and summer holidays,” he said.

Experts say it is important to speed up the delivery of vaccines so that the Olympics are safe.

Suga has set up mass recovery centers and started vaccinations in large companies, which is part of the ambition of about one million doses per day. As of Wednesday, only 6% of Japanese have been completely vaccinated.

In the worst-hit Osaka in western Japan, hospital capacity has improved and new infections dropped to 108 on Wednesday, down from more than 1,200 a day by the end of April.

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