TOKYO – Rising COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have reached a two-month high that almost guarantees that the Japanese government will declare a new state of emergency to begin next week and continue for the duration of the Tokyo Olympics.
The Olympics delayed by the pandemic begin in just over two weeks on July 23.
IOC President Thomas Bach is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday, when he will be greeted by the mounting cases as he secludes himself for three days at the five-star International Olympic Committee hotel in the capital.
A new state of emergency could lead to the ban even of home fans. That decision on fans is expected on Friday when local organizers meet with the IOC and others.
The current quasi-state of emergency ends on Sunday. Tokyo reported 920 new cases on Wednesday, up from 714 last Wednesday. It’s the highest total since 1,010 were reported on May 13.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with key ministers to discuss virus measures and is reportedly considering restoring the state of emergency in the capital until August 22.
Suga did not confirm the report, but pointed to the rise in Tokyo and vowed to “do everything possible to prevent further spread of infections.”
Suga said he would make a final decision on Thursday after consulting with a panel of experts.
Fans from abroad were banned from attending the Olympics months ago. But just two weeks ago, the organizers and the IOC decided to allow venues to be filled to 50% capacity, but not to exceed 10,000.
The increase in cases is likely to mean that venues will be without fans, although sponsors and others may have access. The fan-free atmosphere could include the opening ceremony at the $ 1.4 billion National Stadium.
“Infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand their severity,” Dr. Shigeru Omi, a senior government medical adviser, told reporters.
He urged authorities to swiftly crack down on tough measures ahead of the Olympics as the summer holidays approach.
“The period from July to September is the most critical time for Japan’s COVID-19 measures,” Omi said.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters that she hopes the government will declare a state of emergency in Tokyo, the fourth for the capital since the pandemic began early last year.
Separately, a government advisory panel on COVID-19 met on Wednesday and expressed concern about the continued resurgence of infections.
“Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region come from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of infections to neighboring areas,” said Ryuji Wakita, director general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The Olympics are going ahead against most medical advice, in part because the 15-month postponement stopped the IOC’s revenue stream. It makes nearly 75% of its revenue from the sale of broadcast rights, and estimates suggest that it would lose between $ 3 billion and $ 4 billion if the Olympics were canceled.
Nationwide, Japan has had around 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared to 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain.