Governors of three prefectures near Olympics host Tokyo are likely to ask the government to declare states of emergency for their regions, media said on Wednesday, after COVID-19 infections spiked to a record high in the Japanese capital.
Tokyo recorded 2,848 new cases of coronavirus on Tuesday, the highest since the pandemic began, and media reported authorities had asked hospitals to prepare more beds for patients amid a surge driven by the Delta variant.
The sharp increase may dampen enthusiasm for the Summer Games despite a rush of medals for Japanese athletes as many worry the influx of athletes and officials could add to the surge.
Tokyo Olympics organisers on Wednesday reported 16 new Games-related COVID-19 cases, for a total of 169 since July 1.
Olympic athletes, staff and media must follow strict rules to prevent the virus’s spread, including frequent testing.
An International Olympic Committee spokesperson told a news conference the Japanese public should be reassured by steps taken by organisers, while a Tokyo 2020 spokesperson expressed pain over the rise in cases in the capital while urging stakeholders to abide by rules.
The Tokyo surge may spell trouble for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose support ratings are at their lowest since he took office last September, ahead of a general election this year.
Suga on Tuesday urged people to stay home as much as possible and watch the Olympics on television. He said cancelling the Games was not an option.
Japan has avoided the devastating outbreaks suffered by other nations such as India, Indonesia and the United States, but the fifth wave of the pandemic is piling pressure on Tokyo’s hospitals.
“The risk of infection for individuals is the highest ever. It is affecting even ordinary medical care and … is a severe situation,” Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare and an advisor to the government on COVID-19 response, told NHK public television.
Tokyo is already under its fourth state of emergency, set to run until after the Olympics, but unlike stricter steps in many countries, the measures focus mainly on asking restaurants that serve alcohol to close and others to shut down by 8 p.m.
Many Japanese, however, have grown weary of the largely voluntary restrictions and some experts say the government decision to go ahead with the Olympics sent a confusing message about the need to stay home.
Tokyo’s neighbouring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba are currently under looser “quasi-emergency” restrictions but are also seeing infections spike. Many of their residents travel to the capital.
The Asahi newspaper said those prefectures were likely to ask for stronger restrictions to contain the virus, with Chiba set to do so as early as Wednesday.