Japan looks to ease virus emergency ahead of Olympics

Jun 15, 2021, 6:23 PM | Updated: Jun 16, 2021, 6:26 am

TOKYO (AP) — Japan is expected to ease a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and most other areas this weekend, with new daily cases falling just as the country begins making final preparations for the Olympics starting in just over a month.

Japan has been struggling since late March to slow a wave of infections propelled by more contagious variants, with new daily cases soaring above 7,000 at one point and seriously ill patients straining hospitals in Tokyo, Osaka and other metropolitan areas.

Daily cases have since subsided significantly and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to downgrade the state of emergency when it expires on Sunday to a less-stringent quasi-emergency for several weeks.

Despite concerns raised by medical experts and the public over the potential risks of holding the Olympics, Suga has said he is determined to hold a “safe and secure” games starting July 23.

Holding the Olympics before elections in the autumn is also a political gamble for Suga, whose support ratings have tumbled due to public dissatisfaction over his virus measures, a vaccination drive criticized as being too slow, and lack of a clear explanation of how he will ensure the virus doesn’t spread during the Olympics.

Government-appointed experts met Wednesday to analyze the situation ahead of Suga’s decision on the emergency measures and expressed concern about the potential for infections to climb again after measures are eased. Suga is expected to make a final decision Thursday after more meetings.

Suga placed Tokyo, Osaka and two other areas under a state of emergency in late April and has since expanded the area to 10 prefectures and extended the measures twice. Japan does not enforce hard lockdowns and the state of emergency allows prefectural leaders to order closures or shorter hours for non-essential business in return for compensation to those who comply and fines for violators. Stay-at-home and other measures for the general population are only requests and are increasingly ignored.

Ryuji Wakita, the director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases who heads a government COVID-19 advisory board, said infections have decreased in many areas, but the slowing has bottomed out in the Tokyo region. He warned that infections could increase after an easing of the measures. He said signs of a rebound are already seen among younger people.

Even as more people are vaccinated and most of the country’s 36 million senior citizens are expected to be fully inoculated by the end of July, younger people are largely unvaccinated and infections among them could quickly burden hospitals, Wakita said.

“In order to prevent another upsurge, it is crucial to prevent the people from roaming around during the Olympics and summer vacation,” he said.

Experts say it is crucial to accelerate the vaccine rollout to hold the Olympics safely in one of the world’s least vaccinated developed countries, .

Suga has opened up mass inoculation centers and started vaccinations at major companies, while setting an ambition target of as many as 1 million doses per day.

As of Tuesday, only 5.6% of Japanese were fully vaccinated.

With vaccination rate still low, experts are concerned about the increased flow of the people in Tokyo despite the emergency. Many residents have become impatient and are less cooperative with social distancing requests, they say.

In hard-hit Osaka in western Japan, hospital capacity has improved and new infections dropped to 108 on Tuesday, significantly down from more than 1,200 a day in late April.

In Tokyo, new infections are down to around 500 per day from above 1,100 in mid-May. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has said effective virus measures need to be kept in place.

At a parliamentary health and labor committee last week, Dr. Shigeru Omi, head of a government COVID-19 panel, cautioned that holding the Olympics in the middle of the pandemic is “abnormal” and warned that it would increase the risk of infections.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Jenkins’ 31 lead Iona past Niagara 78-56

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. (AP) — Daniss Jenkins’ 31 points led Iona past Niagara 78-56 on Friday night. Jenkins also had five assists, three steals, and three blocks for the Gaels (3-2). Walter Clayton Jr. scored 13 points, going 5 of 8 and 3 of 3 from the free throw line. Nelly Junior Joseph was 4 […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Holden scores 22 as Towson downs Long Island 74-64

NEW YORK (AP) — Cameron Holden’s 22 points helped Towson defeat LIU 74-64 on Friday night. Holden added five assists for the Tigers (8-1). Nicolas Timberlake scored 15 points while going 5 of 13 from the floor, including 1 for 7 from distance, and 4 for 4 from the line. Charles Thompson was 5 of […]
19 hours ago
Auburn guard K.D. Johnson (0) shoots as Colgate guard Braeden Smith (2) defends during the second h...
Associated Press

Johnson sharp on 3s, unbeaten No. 15 Auburn beats Colgate

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — K.D. Johnson scored 16 points, Wendell Green Jr. and Johni Broome both had 14 and No. 15 Auburn defeated Colgate 93-66 on Friday night. Auburn (8-0) took control with an early 11-3 run. The Tigers hit a season-high 10 3-pointers, with Johnson going 4 for 4. The win was Auburn’s 24th […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Carry’s 23 lead Kent State over South Dakota State 83-68

KENT, Ohio (AP) — Sincere Carry had 23 points in Kent State’s 83-68 win against South Dakota State on Friday night. Carry was 10 of 16 shooting (3 for 5 from distance) for the Golden Flashes (6-2). Malique Jacobs added 13 points while going 4 of 11 and 5 of 6 from the free throw […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Freidel puts up 17 as James Madison defeats E. Kentucky

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) — Noah Freidel had 17 points in James Madison’s 97-80 victory against Eastern Kentucky on Friday night. Freidel had five rebounds for the Dukes (7-2). Terrence Edwards scored 17 points while shooting 6 for 7, including 4 for 4 from beyond the arc. Julien Wooden was 7 of 7 shooting and 2 […]
19 hours ago
Associated Press

Felton’s 25 lead East Carolina past Campbell 79-69

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — RJ Felton scored 25 points as East Carolina beat Campbell 79-69 on Friday night. Felton shot 9 for 14, including 7 for 10 from beyond the arc for the Pirates (6-3). Brandon Johnson scored 16 points and added 10 rebounds. Jaden Walker went 5 of 5 from the field to finish […]
19 hours ago
Japan looks to ease virus emergency ahead of Olympics