The US State Department raised Japan to “Level 4 – do not travel” on Monday, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated a “very high” level of coronavirus in the country.
The opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics is less than two months away, but plenty of questions remain about how host nation Japan will manage the large-scale event despite public health concerns amid the Covid-19 pandemic, reports USA Today.
An influx of thousands of athletes, coaches, and media staff to the country in the middle of a worsening pandemic is causing a majority of Japanese to say the Olympics should be cancelled.
The games are scheduled to begin on July 23, and the Paralympics on Aug 24.
Japan reported 4,590 new Covid-19 cases and 76 deaths over the last 24 hours, according to the most recent data from the World Health Organization. The death rate has increased to levels last seen over the winter and hospitals are starting to reach capacity in parts of the country.
A “fourth wave” is attributed to a combination of Covid-19 variants, relaxed restrictions, and a slow vaccination rollout. In Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city, the director of a hospital told Reuters “simply put, this is a collapse of the medical system”.
A state of emergency is currently in effect in nine prefectures, including Tokyo. Those orders were set to expire on May 11, but the deadline was pushed to May 31, and is now expected to be extended further until either June 13 or June 20, according to the Japan Times.
“The Olympics should be stopped,” said the Osaka Medical and Pharmaceutical University Hospital head of emergency. “This may be a trigger for another disaster this summer.”
The US Olympics and Paralympic Committee said on Monday after learning of the new “do not travel” State Department advisory: “We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff, coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during the Games, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer.”
IOC vice-president John Coates was asked by a member of the Japanese media last week if the Tokyo Olympics would go on even under a state of emergency.
“Absolutely, yes,” he responded.