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Tokyo Olympics: Japan to declare state of emergency

Rail falls as people walk past the Olympic rings near the National Stadium, main venue for the Tokyo 2020 Games, on June 23, 2021

Tokyo Olympics will happen later this month amid a state of emergency.

The Japanese government on Thursday proposed a plan to re-institute strict measures to counter COVID-19 surges in the capital. The measures will take effect next week, and last the duration of the Games, according to widespread media reports.

And they will likely lead Olympic organizers to reconsider their decision to allow local fans to attend events. The Asahi Shimbun reported that venues in and around Tokyo would be “completely unattended.” An announcement on fans is reportedly expected Friday at the latest.

On Wednesday, 16 days before the July 23 Opening Ceremony, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported 920 COVID cases, over 200 more than any other single-day total since May. Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical advisor, said that “infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it.”

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Prime minister Yoshihide Suga vowed to “do everything we can to prevent the further spread of the infections.” One day later, he has reportedly decided to declare the state of emergency, which will extend through Aug. 22, two weeks after the Olympics end.

Organizers have said, though, that the Games can and will go on in a state of emergency.

Tokyo’s seven-day COVID-case average had fallen in late May and early June, to fewer than 400 cases per day in a city of billions. The decline led government officials to peel back their previous state of emergency, and eased any lingering fears in the Olympic world that the Games might be postponed again or canceled.

That seven-day average, however, has been slowly but steadily climbing since June 18, two days before the previous state of emergency was lifted. Some targeted restrictions remained in place, leaving some sectors of public life under a quasi-state of emergency. But the virus lingered, and over the past 10 days showed signs of accelerating. The test positivity rate rose from under 4% in mid-June to over 6% this week. Hospitalizations are also rising.

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