A recent surge in Covid-19 cases could see large parts of Japan revert to states of emergency with authorities in Tokyo and Osaka looking at renewed curbs to stop the spread.
The new wave of infections complicates preparations for the Tokyo Olympic Games, which are due to start in July having already been postponed due to the global coronavirus outbreak last year.
Japan this month put Osaka, Tokyo, and eight other prefectures under “quasi-states of emergency” aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19 with shorter business hours for restaurants and bars and stronger calls for teleworking.
“The fruits of these measures should be appearing now,” Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura told reporters.
But those measures have done little to reverse the trend so far, with Osaka reporting a record 1,220 cases on Sunday, two weeks after those restrictions took effect as a mutant strain fuelled the spread and hospital beds for those in critical condition are 98% filled.
“Medical services are also in a dire state, and we’ve decided that we need a state of emergency. We need stronger measures such as those that would stop the movement of people,” he said, adding that Japan’s third-most populous prefecture would make the formal request to the government on Tuesday.
In a TV Asahi poll published Monday, just over half of respondents said they believed the “quasi-emergency” restrictions were ineffective.
Tokyo is also considering a state-of-emergency request, Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters late on Sunday, in a step backwards as Japan scrambles to bring the pandemic under control ahead of the Summer Olympics.
“Taking pre-emptive action is crucial right now,” Koike said. Tokyo reported 543 new cases on Sunday, the 18th straight day of increases.
Asked about possible requests from Osaka and Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the government’s top spokesman, said any such calls would need to be considered “swiftly”.
As Covid infections rise in Japan, public support for the games is dropping.
Deutsche Welle is reporting that recent comments by Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party are driving speculation that the Summer Games could be called off if the coronavirus outbreak cannot be brought under control.
His comments indicate that discussions are taking place behind the scenes for a potential course of action should a worst-case scenario come to pass.
“If it seems impossible to go on with the games, they must definitely be cancelled,” Nikai said in an interview with Japan’s TBS television station.
“If there is a surge in infections because of the Olympics, there will be no meaning to having the Olympics.”
Asked to clarify whether that meant cancelling the games with less than 100 days to go before the July 23 opening ceremony, Nikai replied, “Of course.”
The most recent available poll showed that only 24.5% of Japanese respondents replied that the games should go ahead as planned.