Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has formally declared a new state of emergency for Tokyo due to the rise of new COVID-19 cases in the capital city.
The new decree will take effect next Monday, July 12 and last until August 22 — a period that will cover the duration of the Tokyo Olympics, which will take place between July 23 and August 8.
The new state of emergency will likely prompt the government to either scale back the number of spectators allowed to witness Olympics events to 5,000 people, or ban them altogether. Olympic organizers announced just last month that it would allow just 10,000 people, or 50% of a venue’s capacity, at all events, despite advice from health experts that banning all spectators was the “least risky” option.
Foreign spectators have already been banned from attending the Olympics.
Local and national government officials along with Olympic and Paralympic officials will make a final decision Thursday or Friday about allowing spectators after meeting with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach. Bach arrived in Tokyo Thursday and immediately entered a mandatory three-day quarantine period.
Tokyo and several other prefectures shifted last month from a state of emergency imposed in April into “quasi-emergency” measures that are set to expire Sunday, July 11.
However, Japan is coping with a fourth wave of new infections and a slow vaccination campaign that has left just 15% of all Japanese citizens fully inoculated. Tokyo reported 920 new infections Wednesday, its highest numbers since May.
The surge has already affected two traditional Olympic events. Tokyo’s metropolitan government announced Wednesday that it will move the iconic Olympic torch relay off the city’s public roads; relay runners will instead carry the torch out of public view to private torch-lighting ceremonies across Tokyo after the Olympic symbol arrives Friday.
In addition, Olympic organizers will request that the public not gather on the streets to witness the marathon races when they are staged in the final days of the games.
The Tokyo Olympics are set to take place after a one-year postponement as the novel coronavirus pandemic began spreading across the globe. The current surge prompted staunch public opposition against going through with the Olympics, including a prominent group of medical professionals that urged Suga to call off the games.