TOKYO (AP) — Japan increased a coronavirus
state of emergency from six to nine areas on Friday, including Tokyo, as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reaffirmed his determination to hold the Olympics in just over two months.
The three new additions are Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, where the Olympic marathon will be held, and the western Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Okayama.
Despite the worsening infections, Suga emphasized his commitment to holding the games in a safe and secure manner while protecting Japanese citizens by strictly controlling the movements of foreign participants, including possibly expelling journalists covering the event if they violate regulations.
“I understand there are numerous challenges, but the priority is to stop the spread of infections and protect people
’s lives and health
,” Suga said.
The three additional prefectures will join Tokyo, Osaka, and four other prefectures that are already under emergency coronavirus restrictions until May 31, Suga announced at a government taskforce meeting Friday. Bars, karaoke parlors, and most entertainment
facilities are required to close. Those who comply will be compensated; those who do not may face fines
“As new variants continue to spread, we judged that now is an extremely important time to stop the further spread of infections,” Suga said.
Suga declared a state of emergency — Japan's third — in four prefectures, including Tokyo and Osaka, on April
25, and expanded it to six prefectures last Friday. Despite the emergency measures, infections are spreading in larger areas of Japan rather than slowing.
Hospitals in the worst-affected Osaka area are overflowing with COVID-19
patients; many are waiting at home or in hotels with oxygen, and more than a dozen have died while waiting for a hospital room. coronavirus treatment in Japan is largely limited to public or university hospitals, with treatment of non-COVID-19 patients severely limited.
Dr. Shigeru Omi, the chairman of a government panel of experts, urged organizers to carefully consider how much additional strain Olympic participants will place on already-strained medical systems.
Suga stated that he will evaluate the virus situation at the end of May before deciding on a possible extension of the emergency.
Many people now oppose hosting the July 23-August 8 Olympics, and they appear to be less cooperative with non-compulsory stay-at-home and social-distancing requests.
In Japan, which is one of the world's least immunized, less than 2% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
The declaration of a state of emergency represents a significant departure from the government's initial plan, which relied on less stringent measures.
The addition of Hiroshima to the areas covered by the emergency measures comes just days after Japanese organizers announced that International Olympic Committee
Chairman Thomas Bach's visit next week to mark the Hiroshima leg of the torch relay has been canceled.
Earlier Friday, organizers of a petition calling for the Olympics to be canceled delivered more than 350,000 signatures to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, claiming that money
spent on the games would be better spent on people in financial need as a result of the pandemic
Japan reported 6,800 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, bringing the total number of cases to 665,547, with 11,255 deaths.