| 29 February 2024, Thursday |

Japan to ease state of emergency, focus on Games spectators

Japan announced on Thursday that it would lift emergency coronavirus restrictions in nine prefectures, including Tokyo, while leaving other precautions in place, such as limiting spectator numbers at major events, despite concerns that next month’s Olympics could result in an outbreak.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga urged the Japanese public to watch the Olympics on television to prevent the virus from spreading, saying it was critical to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases at the Games, which are set to begin on July 23 after being postponed last year.

“The most essential thing is to have our policies in place with a sense of urgency in order to prevent virus spread. During the same time, we must maintain our immunization efforts in order to prevent the medical system from collapsing “he said at a press conference

Suga had previously stated that the state of emergency would be lifted in nine places, but that “quasi-emergency” restrictions would be maintained in seven of them, including Tokyo, until July 11. On Sunday, the state of emergency was supposed to end.

Under the “quasi emergency” measures, bars and restaurants, which are now barred from serving alcohol, will be allowed to do so until 7 p.m. provided they maintain COVID precautions. But local authorities can choose to keep the ban if they think it is necessary. Restaurants will still be asked to shut by 8 p.m.

“It’s critical to organize the Tokyo Games in a safe and secure environment, to contain the spread of infections during the Games, and to prevent the spread of infections after the Games,” Suga said. “I’d want to invite everyone at home to show their support for the athletes, such as by watching television,” Suga stated.

According to Japanese media reports, the government is considering admitting up to 10,000 domestic fans into stadiums during the Games, in accordance with a plan authorized by health experts on Wednesday for events.

Polls have shown most Japanese people remain wary about the possibility that the Games will spread infections, particularly as vaccination rates are still lower than in other wealthy countries. Suga said on Thursday that the vaccination of over-65s was likely to be completed by the end of July.


With the rate of decline in new infections in Tokyo slowing in recent days, some experts have warned of a possible rebound and emphasized the need to respond quickly through additional restrictions or even the reinstatement of a state of emergency in the capital, according to Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.

“The IOC has the final say,” Nishimura said when asked if the government would urge the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to cancel or postpone the Games even after they had begun if there was a threat to public health and lives.

“Protecting life and health is our primary priority. We’ll do everything we can to keep infection at bay and keep hospital beds secure.”

The organizers are expected to make a decision on whether or not to let domestic spectators at the Games as early as Monday, and they are likely to maintain some crowd control limitations.

Spectators at large events are limited to 5,000 or half of a venue’s capacity, whichever is smaller, under the “quasi-emergency” regulations, exactly as they are under a state of emergency.

On Wednesday, health experts, including top medical adviser Shigeru Omi, agreed that the number of spectators at sporting events may be increased to 10,000, but only in locations where the “quasi-emergency” had been lifted.

The Mainichi newspaper reported the government aimed to allow spectators into the Games, with the 10,000 cap. A decision on the maximum number of spectators is expected early next week.

Omi and other health experts developed ideas for the Games, according to public broadcaster NHK, arguing that excluding spectators would be the least harmful way.

Observers should be subjected to greater limitations than those placed on other large-scale events, according to experts, according to NHK.

The Chief Cabinet Secretary, Katsunobu Kato, declined to comment on the claimed suggestions. Japan plans to introduce vaccine passports by late July, he added, in an effort to ease travel restrictions.

Omi will hold an online news conference on Friday, according to the Japan National Press Club, to present expert ideas on how to best limit the pandemic during the Games.

  • Reuters