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Japan extends COVID-19 state of emergency ahead of Olympics


Japan extends COVID-19 state of emergency ahead of Olympics
The logo of Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games that have been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, is seen through a traffic sign at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in Tokyo, Japan. (Reuters)

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TOKYO – Japan extended a state of emergency on Friday in Tokyo and other areas by about three weeks to June 20, as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of easing less than two months before the Summer Olympics open.

The state of emergency in the capital and eight other prefectures had been scheduled to end on May 31, but strains on the medical system remain severe.

Japan has seen a record number of COVID-19 patients in critical condition in recent days, even as the number of new infections has slowed.

“In Osaka and Tokyo, the flow of people is starting to creep up, and there are concerns that infections will rise,” Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who also heads the country’s coronavirus counter-measures, said at the start of a meeting with experts.

The experts later approved the government’s proposal and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga officially announced the extensions.

Worries about variants of the novel coronavirus and a slow vaccination drive have prompted urgent calls from doctors, some high-profile business executives and hundreds of thousands of citizens to cancel the Olympic Games, due to start on July 23.

Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said the Games will go ahead under strict virus-prevention measures.

The IOC’s senior official John Coates, who oversees the preparations, said last week the Games were on whether or not the host city, Tokyo, is under a state of emergency at the time.

Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee president Seiko Hashimoto told a news conference she had received pledges from India – now battling a deadly second COVID-19 wave – and five other countries to vaccinate all their Olympic delegates as a measure against a new variant that has emerged in India.

IOC president Thomas Bach said 80 percent of the 10,500 athletes expected in Japan will be vaccinated and urged Olympians on Friday to get their shots if they could.

Delegates must also be tested before and after arrival.