Japan To Expand Covid-19 Restrictions As Cases Hit Record In Tokyo During Olympics

Japan To Expand Covid-19 Restrictions As Cases Hit Record In Tokyo During OlympicsCovid-19 in Japan (Representative image)
  • While imposing a nationwide state emergency is still a topic of discussion, emergency declarations have already been issued in several prefectures and in Tokyo.

The host country of the thirty-second Summer Olympic Games, Japan, issued a warning on 4 July 2021 that novel coronavirus infections are increasing at an unprecedented rate, as new cases reached a record high in Tokyo, raising concerns about the government's handling of the pandemic. Now the reports said that the government might impose restrictions on several prefectures.

Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said that the highly transmissible Delta variant was causing illnesses "unseen in the past" as he justified a new policy requiring people with milder symptoms to isolate at home instead of going to the hospital. He told the parliament that the pandemic has progressed to a new stage, and hospitals cannot have patients until there are enough beds. On this front, the authorities are taking proactive measures, said the Minister.

However, Tamura hinted at the possibility of reversing the policy, as the decision to advise certain sick individuals to stay at home has been criticised by medical experts because many of them believe that through this policy, authorities will put many lives in jeopardy. So, the Minister said: "If things don't turn out as we expect, we can roll back the policy."

Coronavirus cases have risen dramatically in Japan during the Tokyo Olympics, which was overshadowed by the threat of Covid-19 spread inside the Olympic village. As of now, the total number of confirmed cases linked to the Olympics has reached 353.

On 4 August, Tokyo recorded a total of 4,166 new cases, which is a new high. According to Reuters, the national broadcaster NHK, the number of newly reported cases nationwide reached a new high of nearly 14,200.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced that only severely ill Covid-19 patients or those who are at risk of developing serious health issues due to SARS-CoV-2 infection would be hospitalised, while others would be isolated at home. But some fear that this new policy or Covid combat strategy will increase deaths. Meanwhile, some officials from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have agreed to pursue a withdrawal of the policy, echoing similar concerns from opposition politicians.

In response to criticism, Suga clarified that the new hospitalisation policy was targeted at areas where Covid-19 cases are on the rise, such as Tokyo, rather than being applied uniformly across the country. He also added that "we'll thoroughly explain our policy and seek public understanding".

The backlash is another setback for Suga, whose popularity has plummeted as a result of his handling of the pandemic in the run-up to this year's general elections. Many citizens had opposed to the Olympics being held while the country struggles to manage the pandemic and vaccinate its citizens, according to polls.

Prime Minister and the Olympics organisers stated that there is no link between the Olympic Games and the recent spike in cases. Shigeru Omi, a top medical adviser to the Japanese government, warned parliament that hosting the Summer Olympics may have influenced public opinion and weakened the impact of government calls for people to stay at home.

It is a fact that since the start of the Olympics last month, Covid-19 infections have continued to rise in Japan. As the significant surge in cases continues to put pressure on the medical system of the Olympic host nation, now the Japanese government plans to expand its Covid-19 emergency measures to eight more prefectures on 5 August.

The expanded emergency request came from a group led by Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who stated new infections were all-time high and warned that the situation at hospitals is "extremely severe," reported Reuters.

According to Nishimura, the government intends to declare a state of emergency in eight prefectures—Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Aichi, Shiga and Kumamoto—and the decision will be made during a meeting on 5 August.

Officials of the Tokyo Olympics on 5 August reported a total of 31 new Covid-19 instances, including a sixth member of the Greek artistic swimming team, which was forced to withdraw from the tournament on 3 August. The Greek team's outbreak is now being regarded as a cluster, according to the organisers, and all six members who have tested positive are being isolated in hotel rooms while the other six have returned home.

While imposing a nationwide state emergency is still a topic of discussion, emergency declarations have already been issued in several prefectures, as well as in Tokyo.


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