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Coronavirus

Tokyo put under COVID state of emergency during the Olympics

Suga warns of delta spread, with latest restrictions to run through end of games

Morning commutes have changed little during Tokyo's fight to keep Japan's economic engine humming while also guarding against a surge in infections. (Photo by Koji Uema)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government decided on Thursday to place Tokyo under a state of emergency as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga tries to pull off hosting the Olympics without sparking a COVID-19 crisis amid a steady rise in infections in the capital and surrounding areas.

Tokyo thus joins Okinawa, the southernmost island prefecture that has been under a state of emergency since May 23.

The move comes less than three weeks after Tokyo emerged from a state of emergency, on June 20, and marks the fourth time for the capital to fall under a COVID emergency decree since April 2020.

The metropolis' plight also demonstrates the challenges of containing the mutating virus while also keeping the economy going, a battle that had been expected to grow easier now that Japan has accelerated its vaccine rollout.

Suga said Thursday that the government will "make every effort to implement infection control measures and accelerate its vaccine campaign."

He stressed that progress has been made on inoculations, saying that a total of 54 million jabs have been administered with around 70% of elderly and around 30% of all citizens having received their first vaccine shot.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a press conference on Thursday in Tokyo. (Photo by Uichiro Kasai) 

At a press conference on Thursday evening, Suga noted that "vaccinations have made significant progress and the number of new infections, as well as seriously ill patients, have decreased in many regions."

"However, new infections in the capital have clearly increased due to the high level of foot traffic and the spread of the delta variant," he added.

"The delta strain is said to be 1.5 times more infectious than the alpha strain and there is concern over its rapid spread," Suga said. "Tokyo's rise in infections could spread nationwide."

Tokyo and its three surrounding prefectures as well as the major metropolitan regions of Osaka, Aichi, Kyoto and Fukuoka on June 21 were put under quasi emergencies that are to run through Sunday. Among the quasi-emergency restrictions is a ban on restaurants and bars serving alcohol after 7 p.m.

The state of emergency will be reinstated only in Tokyo. For the three surrounding prefectures -- Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa -- as well as Osaka, the quasi-emergency restrictions will be extended through Aug. 22.

The prefectures of Aichi, Kyoto, Hyogo, Fukuoka and Hokkaido will have the restrictions lifted.

Under the full state of emergency, establishments will be asked to suspend all alcohol sales. Curbs will be tightened even in areas under the quasi emergency, with restaurants and bars asked to stop all alcohol sales regardless of time.

In addition, all restaurants must close by 8 p.m. Governors of prefectures under a full state of emergency are authorized to order businesses to reduce their hours or not open at all. Fines of up to 300,000 yen ($2,720) can be levied upon violators. Operators that comply with the rules will be given cash compensation.

The Olympics are due to start on July 23 and run through Aug. 8. Tokyo will be under a full state of emergency the entire time. Nevertheless, decisions on whether to allow spectators at Olympic venues, and how many, will be made during a meeting involving officials from the Tokyo metropolitan government, the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese organizing committee. The meeting is imminent.

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