(Tokyo) Japan on Friday extended its state of emergency, already concerning six departments including that of Tokyo, to three additional departments in the face of the resurgence of the pandemic, only 10 weeks before the opening of the Olympic Games in the Japanese capital .
“We have decided to add the departments of Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima to those already under a state of emergency” until May 31, announced Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
In these three departments, “the population is relatively large and the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing rapidly,” he added.
Activated for the third time in the country in just over a year, the Japanese state of emergency provides for less severe restrictions than the strict lockdowns implemented elsewhere in the world.
It consists above all in restricting the activity of certain physical businesses, in particular imposing the temporary closure of bars and restaurants serving alcohol, under penalty of a fine. Some department stores and cinemas have also been closed.
Another range of measures, lower than the state of emergency, will also be extended to 10 departments, against 8 so far, out of the 47 in the country.
Japan has been relatively spared from the pandemic with just over 11,000 officially recorded deaths since early 2020, but medical experts warn that the hospital system is under great pressure.
An aggravating factor, the vaccination campaign is progressing only very slowly compared to other industrialized countries: only the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine has so far been approved in the country and just over 1% of the population has been vaccinated. .
“Anger” in Japan against the Games
However, the organizers of the Tokyo Games (23 July-8 August) continue to ensure that they can take place “in complete safety” thanks to strict health protocols and the vaccination of a large number of participants. They also highlight the success of holding test events recently in the Japanese capital.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) hammered this week that it was “fully focused on the final phase of implementation” of the Games, despite “speculation” and opposition from a clear majority of Japanese, according to all surveys.
In an interview with AFP, the president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), Andrew Parsons, said Thursday he understood the “anger” among the Japanese population but described as “tiny” the risks of the virus spreading by sportsmen.
“We need to create a solid bubble and impose the necessary restrictions to avoid straining the medical system,” Tokyo Games Organizing Committee chairperson Seiko Hashimoto also said on Friday.
Regarding the tens of thousands of official representatives and the media supposed to come from abroad for the Games, Mr. Suga recalled Friday that they too would be subject to “restrictions” and specified that sanctions were to be imposed. study for potential offenders, “including deportation” from Japan.
“Lives more important than money”
A petition calling for the cancellation of the Olympics, which has collected more than 350,000 signatures, was handed over to local authorities in Tokyo on Friday. It was also sent to the IOC in particular and should be submitted to the Japanese government.
Its initiator, a lawyer named Kenji Utsunomiya, also a former candidate for governor of Tokyo, on Friday called on political and Olympic leaders to prioritize “life” rather than the Games. “Lives are more important than money,” he insisted.
A union of Japanese hospital doctors also ruled this week that it was “impossible to hold a safe Games during the pandemic”.
Several renowned Japanese athletes, such as tennis champion Naomi Osaka and golfer Hideki Matsuyama, have expressed reservations about the viability of the Tokyo Games in the midst of a pandemic.
They were joined by the first private fortune of Japan, the CEO of SoftBank Group Masayoshi Son, who said “fear” the holding of the event.
“Beyond Japan, many other countries are still in a situation [sanitaire, NDLR] difficult, I do not know how they can encourage their athletes “to participate in the Games, said Thursday Mr. Son in an interview with the American channel CNBC.