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Coronavirus

Japan eyes COVID emergency extension as Olympic countdown begins

Decision to stretch measure into June could come as early as weekend

Coronavirus case counts remain elevated in Tokyo and other areas covered by the emergency declaration.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan will decide as early as this weekend whether to extend the state of emergency in Tokyo and other prefectures beyond the current end date of May 31 and into next month as the July 23 start of the Summer Olympics approaches.

On whether the games can be held during a pandemic state of emergency, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee is emphatic that they can be.

"The answer is absolutely yes," John Coates said at a remote press conference Friday, saying the World Health Organization had advised that the games could safely go on due the safety measures being put in place.

"We'll hear opinions from experts and make a decision as early as this weekend" on where to maintain the decree and for how long, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday in a meeting with senior officials in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The current state of emergency was originally imposed in Tokyo and greater Osaka in late April. It was extended in early May until the end of the month and later expanded to cover a total of nine prefectures, including Aichi, Fukuoka, Hokkaido, Hiroshima and Okayama.

An emergency was also declared Sunday in Okinawa, with restrictions there set to run until June 20. Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato suggested Monday that the end date in the other nine prefectures could be pushed back to match.

"We need to handle this with a certain degree of uniformity," Kato told reporters.

The government will also be listening to local authorities. Osaka Prefecture Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura plans to call for an extension of the emergency decree, with an official decision set to come after a meeting of the prefecture's COVID-19 task force Tuesday, and neighboring Hyogo Prefecture intends to make a similar request.

Indicators such as daily new cases and hospital bed occupancy rates remain at the highest level on the government's four-point stage of outbreak severity in most of the prefectures covered by the declaration, according to Cabinet Secretariat data for Sunday.

Nine of the prefectures covered by the emergency declarations, with the exception of Hyogo, had between 28 and 84 daily new cases per 100,000 people -- above the threshold of 25 for Stage 4. Hospital bed occupancy rates came in at 38% in Tokyo and between 53% and 86% for the other prefectures, past the Stage 4 level of 50%.

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