On Friday, July 30, Japan declared that its coronavirus state of emergency would expand to four more places besides Tokyo as COVID-19 cases continue to spike fast as the Summer Game is rolling. 

Three of the prefectures near Olympic host Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Chiba, together with the western city of Osaka are entering the emergency state of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga informed the public.

Attributing the unprecedented rapid surge in new infections to the Delta variant, Suga in a news conference said it was likely that the country’s hospital beds may become overcrowded.

“With a heavy heart, I want to ask everyone: until we see the impact of more vaccinations, I want you all to stay vigilant and implement infection prevention measures to the full,” he said, as reported by Reuters. The minister reiterated that people should follow the Olympics on TV at home. 

As of this week, 64 percent of Tokyo’s hospital beds available for severe COVID-19 cases were already occupied.

For the four new prefectures, the emergency period will take effect by August 2 and is expected to end at the end of the month. Existing emergency measures in Tokyo and Okinawa will be prolonged until after the Olympics and well into the Paralympics, which begin on August 24.

Suga added that Hokkaido, Aichi, Kyoto, Hyogo, and Fukuoka will continue to go through a “quasi-emergency” period. 

Foodservice establishments are barred from selling alcohol and must close by 8 p.m. in regions declared an emergency. But with quasi-emergency, some places may be permitted to sell alcohol until 7 p.m., depending on the consent of the local governor, if sufficient safety protocols are in place, Japan Times explained.

Following the new announcement, by far Japan has had more than half of its country imposing COVID-19 restrictions to some level.

But in general, the restrictions in Japan are easier and more voluntary than other countries that impose strict lockdowns.

Still, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura admitted the worrisome reality that despite public movement having been reduced, cases, by contrast, persisted on growing. 

“I think that people cannot see ahead and, worrying how long this situation will last, they find it unbearable that they cannot return to normal daily life,” Tamura said.

As less than 30% of the Japanese population are fully vaccinated, experts say the relentless spike in COVID-19 cases during the Summer event has provided grounds for the public to doubt the effectiveness of restrictions.

Reuters noted that despite other places in the country where voluntary limitations and poor vaccination rates prevail, measurements at the Olympics are closely restricted.

Aside from mandatory testing, the Olympic village in Tokyo for athletes and coaches had more than 80% individuals immunized, with travel strictly restricted. Most Olympic revenues also have placed a ban on fans from entering.

Suga and Olympic organizers have rejected any connection between the Tokyo Olympics and the recent high increase in COVID-19 cases.

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