World

Japan to extend virus emergency, months before delayed Olympics


An official announcement is expected later in the day, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga scheduled to hold an evening press conference.

Japan’s government is set to approve a month-long extension of its coronavirus state of emergency on February 2, less than six months before the pandemic-postponed Olympic Games open in Tokyo.

An official announcement is expected later in the day, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga scheduled to hold an evening press conference.

The extension has been widely trailed by local media and officials, with government spokesman Katsunobu Kato telling reporters February 2 morning that “it is our understanding that continued vigilance is warranted for a while”.

Eleven of Japan’s prefectures, including the greater Tokyo area, are currently under a state of emergency that runs until February 7.

The month-long extension is expected to apply to all but one of the regions currently affected, and comes despite a dip in new infections.

Japan’s virus emergency is significantly looser than the lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world, and primarily calls for increased teleworking and the closure of bars and restaurants from 8 p.m.

Legislation currently working its way through parliament would add enforcement measures including fines for businesses that do not close early.

The government was initially reluctant to impose the emergency, waiting until after the new year, despite an uptick in cases in December.

It initially covered just the greater Tokyo area, but was expanded about a week after it was first announced as infections spiked in several parts of the country.

Japan’s coronavirus outbreak has been comparatively small nationwide, with just over 5,700 deaths overall.

But the country’s healthcare system has become increasingly overburdened, and public support for both the initial imposition of the emergency, and the February 2 extension, is strong.

Mr. Suga’s government has seen approval ratings plummet over its handling of the country’s third wave of infection, which has increased doubts about the prospects for this summer’s postponed Olympics.

Japan’s government, organisers and Olympic officials all insist the Games will go ahead this summer, and extensive virus countermeasures are being developed to keep the event safe.

But public opinion remains opposed, with around 80% of Japanese polled backing a further postponement or outright cancellation.

Japan has tightened border restrictions during the state of emergency, ending exemptions for athletes.

That has forced the cancellation and postponement of some sports events, including the first Olympic test event of 2021 — an artistic swimming qualifier that had been scheduled for March.

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