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Japan to ease state of emergency, focus on Games spectators


Japan to ease state of emergency, focus on Games spectators
A general view of the Olympic Stadium (National Stadium) in Tokyo, Japan. (Reuters)

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TOKYO – Japan said on Thursday it would ease emergency coronavirus (COVID-19) curbs in nine prefectures, including Tokyo, while keeping some measures.

The country plans to limit spectator numbers at big events amid fears that next month’s Olympics could trigger a surge in infections

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called on the Japanese public to watch the Olympics on TV to avoid spreading the virus, saying it was crucial to avoid any rebound in COVID-19 cases at the Games, due to start on July 23 after being postponed last year.

“The important thing is to continue with our policies with a sense of urgency to prevent the spread of infections,” he told a news conference. “At the same time, we must keep up our vaccination efforts to prevent the collapse of the medical system.”

Earlier, Suga said authorities were lifting the state of emergency for nine areas, but they would maintain “quasi-emergency” measures in seven of them, including Tokyo, until July 11. The state of emergency had been set to expire on Sunday.

Under the “quasi emergency” measures, bars and restaurants, which are now barred from serving alcohol, will be allowed to do so until 7 p.m. provided they maintain COVID-19 precautions. But local authorities can choose to keep the ban if they think it is necessary. Restaurants will still be asked to shut by 8 p.m.

“It’s important to hold safe and secure Tokyo Games, curb the spread of infections during the period and prevent the spread of infections after the Games,” said Suga. “I would like to ask everyone to support the athletes at home, such as by watching television.”

Japanese media have reported that the government, which has barred foreign spectators, is considering allowing up to 10,000 domestic fans into stadiums during the Games, in line with a plan endorsed by health experts on Wednesday for events.