Tokyo declared a new state of emergency on Monday, less than two weeks before the Games begin, amid concerns that the measures will not be effective in containing an increase in COVID-19 cases.
Organizers announced last week that spectators would be prohibited from entering nearly all venues. Spectators from other countries were already barred months ago, and officials are now urging residents to watch the Games on TV in order to limit the movement of people, which could spread contagion.
Opinion polls consistently show that the Japanese public is concerned about the Games taking place during the pandemic. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s handling of the pandemic, which included a slow vaccination rollout at first, has eroded his support. The issue is especially sensitive in the run-up to a national election and a leadership race in the ruling party later this year.
“We would like to encourage people to support athletes from home,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on a Sunday TV program.
The Games, which were postponed from last year due to the pandemic, will take place from July 23 to August 8, while the capital’s fourth state of emergency will last until August 22, shortly before the Paralympics begin. The government and organizers had long viewed the Games as an opportunity to showcase Japan’s recovery from the devastating 2011 earthquake and nuclear crisis.
On Saturday, the governor of Fukushima prefecture, the site of the nuclear disaster, announced that spectators would be prohibited from attending softball and baseball games in the prefecture, reversing an earlier decision.
Novak Djokovic, the world’s number one tennis player, said on Sunday that he was “50-50” about competing in the Tokyo Olympics due to the organizers’ decision to ban fans from attending and limit the number of people he can bring with him. Some of the sport’s biggest names, including Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Nick Kyrgios, Serena Williams, and Simona Halep, have already announced their absence.
More than 815,440 COVID-19 cases and nearly 15,000 deaths have been reported in Japan.
Recent increases in Tokyo have been especially concerning, as they coincide with a vaccination rollout that got off to a sluggish start and has since encountered supply issues after speeding up. Only about 28% of the population has had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Sunday, Tokyo recorded 502 new cases, the 23rd consecutive day of week-on-week growth, and experts are concerned that the public has grown tired of restrictions, mostly voluntary, on activities. The coronavirus restrictions include requiring restaurants to close early and stop serving alcohol in exchange for a government subsidy, measures that have hit restaurants hard and prompted many to complain of unfairness as the Games approach.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the Economy Minister who is also in charge of the pandemic response, sparked outrage late Thursday when he said he would ask banks to put pressure on restaurants that do not comply with the stricter measures. In a U-turn, the government’s top spokesperson, Kato, announced on Friday that banks would not be asked to press restaurants and bars that do not comply with the government’s request to stop serving alcohol under the emergency restrictions.
On Monday, the hashtag “Anyone but LDP or Komeito” trended on Twitter, referring to voting for parties other than Suga’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party or its junior coalition partner, the Komeito, in the upcoming parliamentary election.
“I’m not a restaurateur, but this administration, which couldn’t come up with effective anti-coronavirus steps despite having a year to prepare for the Olympics… is no good,” one irate Twitter user said.