TOKYO — Coronavirus infection cases have reached daily records in Tokyo, which is now playing host to the Olympics. The Japanese government has declared the capital and several other regions under a “state of emergency” during the entire Games. With such a global sporting event unfolding, what does that mean? Here's a rundown.
WHAT IS JAPAN’S STATE OF EMERGENCY?
It doesn't mean a lockdown. In fact, Japan has never had a lockdown. Its “emergency” measures are centered around having bars and restaurants close early.
Under the latest emergency, extended through the end of August, serving alcohol is restricted. The measures have been widely criticized as arbitrarily targeting a sector without scientific foundation. Some establishments are ignoring requests and staying open. Theaters and clubs limit crowd size.
SO THE MEASURES AREN’T WORKING?
Some would say so. The state of emergency, Japan’s fourth, has lasted through much of this year. Some cynics are wondering how a supposed emergency has become the new normal. Although violating businesses can technically be penalized with fines, such action has been rare.
The government has urged people to stay home, socially distance and wear masks. Japan is generally an extremely orderly and conformist nation. But commuter trains are still packed, and the streets of Tokyo are bustling with throngs of mask-wearing people. Remote work isn't a viable option for many Japanese “salarymen” and “salarywomen.”
The Olympics hasn't exactly helped. With Japan on its way to possibly winning more gold medals than ever, people are flocking to sports bars to cheer for their teams en masse, and to stores to buy Olympic goods.
BUT THE GAMES MUST GO ON?
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said the recent surge in cases isn’t related to the Olympics. Olympic athletes are getting tested daily. No fans are allowed in the stands at the Games, just team members, media and guests.
Suga’s ratings have been plunging as doubts grow over his apparent decision to hold the Olympics, despite repeated warnings from medical experts about health risks.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH RISKS?
The vaccine rollout in Japan has lagged among developed nations, with about a fourth of the population fully vaccinated so far. That rate is lower for Tokyo.
Japan relies totally on imported vaccines. Japan has had about 15,000 COVID-related deaths. Daily reported new cases in Tokyo reached 3,865 people Thursday, a record for the third straight day.
CAN JAPANESE CHEER FOR OLYMPIANS?
Critics say the government’s message is confusing. Even as people are being told to stay home, Japan is going ahead with a big festival that gathers tens of thousands of athletes, corporate sponsors and other dignitaries from more than 200 nations.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike rejected notions that the Olympics may contribute to growing infections, and she urged people to watch the Games on TV with family and close friends. “The Olympics," she said, “are helping boost the rate of those staying home.”