Japanese government says it will impose emergency measures, such as shorter opening hours and asking people to work from home and refrain from activities like karaoke, in the western Osaka region. to stop a rebound in COVID-19 cases, putting events related to the 2020 Games at risk.
Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura on Thursday said the Olympic torch events in the prefecture’s main city should be called off, a day after sounding the alarm over the emergence of a fourth wave of infections. .
The infection control measures will cover Osaka, Hyogo and Miyagi prefectures and last from April 5 to May 5, said Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is also leading the national response to COVID-19.
A final decision on the enactment of the measures will be taken at a working group meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga this afternoon.
New infections in Osaka have overtaken those in the much larger metropolis of Tokyo in recent days.
Osaka prefecture on Wednesday reported 599 new cases, close to the record high of 654 in early January, as the country gripped its third and deadliest wave of the pandemic. Tokyo reported 475 new infections today, the most since February 10.
The new measures are based on a revised infection control law and can be applied to an area narrower than a state of emergency, which Suga declared for most of the country in early January.
Sudden rebound in cases
The controls allow regional governments to order businesses to shorten hours of operation and impose fines of 200,000 yen ($ 1,806.52) or publish the names of those who do not comply. In addition, residents are encouraged to telecommute and refrain from activities such as karaoke.
Osaka emerged from the state of emergency early, but then saw a strong rebound in cases towards the end of March.
“In Osaka, in particular, the number of people infected in their 20s and 30s is increasing as people continue to go out at night,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Thursday.
“Reports of mutant strains are also increasing and contagion is expected to continue.”
With the new restrictions, the torch relay for the Tokyo Olympics, which is due to pass through Osaka Prefecture April 13-14, could be in jeopardy.
“I think we need to have talks with Osaka city, but personally I think the torch relay in Osaka city should be canceled,” Yoshimura told reporters, adding that he also wished have discussions with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Organizing Committee.
Tokyo 2020 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The relay started last week in Fukushima and is considered the first major test of the Games by hosting a large-scale event while implementing strict health protocols.
Around 10,000 runners will carry the torch through the country’s 47 prefectures for 121 days.
Tokyo Olympics organizers are demanding that roadside spectators wear masks, practice social distancing and not cheer out loud to prevent the spread of the virus, and so far there have been no report of infections resulting from the relay.
Nagano Prefecture, however, banned spectators from parts of the relay on Thursday, in an effort to prevent large groups from gathering after its capital raised its COVID-19 alert level following the outbreak. a recent increase in infections.
No spectators will be present when the last torchbearer of the day brings the torch and lights the Olympic cauldron in Nagano city, the prefecture said.
Although Japan has been less severely affected by the pandemic than the United States and Europe, its vaccination campaign is slowly starting as some prefectures experience an increase in new infections.
Most Japanese oppose hosting the Games this summer during the pandemic, polls have shown.
Last month, the Olympic organizers decided to exclude international spectators from the Games, and this month they must decide on the maximum capacity of spectators at the venues.
The Olympic Games, postponed for a year due to the pandemic, are scheduled from July 23 to August 8 and the Paralympics from August 24 to September 5.