Japan will declare a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo to run throughout the Olympic Games.
Yoshihide Suga, prime minister, will hold a press conference on Thursday evening to announce the measures, as increased prevalence of the Delta variant drives a rapid spread of coronavirus infections.
The renewed state of emergency means that the Tokyo public will be urged to stay at home even as the International Olympic Committee holds the world’s biggest sporting event in its streets and stadiums.
The IOC has insisted that the Games must go ahead even during a state of emergency, but the declaration will probably lead to tighter restrictions on spectators. Tokyo 2020 is set to review its decision to allow a maximum of 10,000 spectators, or 50 per cent of the total capacity, in stadiums before the end of the week.
Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of Japan’s Covid-19 response, described the situation as a “race between vaccination and the spread of the Delta variant”. He said vaccinations would continue as fast as possible during the state of emergency.
After a slow start, Japan’s vaccine rollout has gathered pace, but it has given a first dose to just 27 per cent of the public, leaving a large pool of unvaccinated people among whom Covid-19 can spread.
On Wednesday, Tokyo reported 920 new cases of coronavirus, the highest daily figure since May 13. The number of cases has been creeping up since Japan lifted a previous state of emergency last month.
The new state of emergency will be the fourth in Tokyo, after previous declarations in spring 2020, winter 2021 and spring 2021. Under previous restrictions, the public was asked to work from home when possible and restaurants were requested to close at 8pm.
The precise new curbs have not yet been announced. Japan has a constitutional right to free movement, so all the restrictions are voluntary. Previous states of emergency have been effective in reducing Covid-19 cases, but medical officials were concerned about declining compliance with the rules and the Delta variant’s high transmissibility.
“The Delta variant is moving fast, responsible for 7 per cent of cases nationwide and 14 per cent in Tokyo,” said Norihisa Tamura, health minister. “With the idea that we’d like this to be the last round of emergency measures, we’ll continue vaccinations and tackle coronavirus with the wishes of the public in mind.”
Okinawa will also remain under a state of emergency, but Japan’s other large cities will not be covered by the restrictions, which should reduce the economic impact of the new measures.
“The economic recovery led by exports and manufacturing is unlikely to be derailed,” said Takeshi Yamaguchi, chief Japan economist at Morgan Stanley in Tokyo, noting the smaller geographic scope of the new state of emergency. He added that households have adapted to online shopping.
There would, however, be increased pressure for another round of fiscal stimulus, Yamaguchi argued, which could include more cash handouts to lower-income individuals.