TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Friday that he believes rigorous control measures will "make it possible to hold a safe and secure Tokyo Olympics while protecting the lives and health of our citizens."
His statement comes the same day the government expanded its COVID-19 state of emergency to include three more prefectures amid rising infections.
Despite the rapid increase in new cases and seriously ill patients, Suga noted at a press conference on Friday evening that Pfizer's vaccine donations to participating athletes, border controls that will be in place, and securing sufficient medical personnel will allow the Olympics to take place. The scheduled opening is 70 days away on July 23.
The prime minister acknowledged that "infections have increased rapidly in certain areas," particularly in prefectures with large populations, which led the government to declare a COVID-19 emergency for Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures that starts on Sunday and will last until May 31.
That brings the total number of prefectures under the state of emergency to nine, including Tokyo and the greater Osaka region.
In addition, a "quasi-emergency" declaration will cover three additional prefectures -- Gunma, Ishikawa, and Kumamoto -- until mid-June.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said on Friday that the government's subcommittee on the coronavirus response "indicated that we need to send a strong message to the public."
"There are voices pointing out how the spread of the coronavirus variants and strain on medical care capacity are worse than what the numbers show," he said.
In areas under the state of emergency, restaurants, bars and karaoke parlors that serve alcohol have been told to close. Large commercial facilities like department stores and shopping centers are being asked to reduce business hours. Prefectural governors are also authorized to impose tighter restrictions as they deem necessary.
At sports events, concerts and other large gatherings, spectators are limited to 5,000.
Restaurants and other establishments that violate COVID-19 emergency rules will be fined up to 300,000 yen ($2,750).
The latest extension of the state of emergency raises further questions about whether Japan will be able to go ahead with the Olympic Games.
Suga said that the government will work together with municipalities to accelerate the vaccination process in an effort to control the spread of the virus.
"Vaccines will be the trump card that protects each and every life," he said.
The prime minister last week set a goal to vaccinate 1 million people a day, and announced a plan to complete second inoculations for the elderly who want them by the end of July.
"We will accelerate the vaccination process so that we can return to a safe and secure life as soon as possible," he said.
Suga also said that the government is in the midst of examining the number of officials who would be coming to Japan for the games, and that this would be "much less" than was initially expected.
For anyone who does not cooperate with the country's COVID-19 restrictions, Suga said, "We are considering measures that include the possibility of forcefully making them leave." As for accommodation for foreign media, he said, "We would like to designate a specific hotel for them to use."
Japan now has a total of 19 prefectures under either a state of emergency or quasi-emergency. The prefectures account for about 70% of the country's gross domestic product and population. The move has deepened concerns about damage to the economy.
This is Japan's third coronavirus state of emergency. It was declared on April 25 in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 and its variants during the Golden Week holiday in early May.
The government later extended the state of emergency to the end of May, and has added five more prefectures to the list since its initial declaration.