TOKYO (AP) – Tokyo hit another six-month high in new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the day before Olympiad begin, as fears of exacerbation of infections during games are growing.
On Thursday, 1,979 new cases were the highest since 2,044 cases were reported on January 15.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is determined to host the Olympics, declared a state of emergency in Tokyo on July 12, but the number of daily cases has skyrocketed since then.
The emergency measures, which mainly include a ban on the sale of alcohol and a reduction in opening hours for restaurants and bars, will last until August 22, after the end of the Olympic Games on August 8.
Since the start of the pandemic, Japan has reported about 853,000 cases and 15,100 deaths, most of them this year. However, the number of cases and deaths as a percentage of the population is much lower than in many other countries.
The Olympic Games, postponed for a year due to the pandemic, kick off on Friday. Spectators are prohibited from visiting all venues in the Tokyo area, and in some remote locations, a limited number of spectators are allowed.
The Suga government has been criticized for the Olympic Games’ preference for the health of the nation, according to some. His public support rating has dropped to around 30% in recent media polls, with few holidays ahead of the Games. Opening ceremony director Kentaro Kobayashi was fired on Thursday over a past Holocaust joke.
As for diplomacy related to the Olympics, Suga is due to meet with US First Lady Jill Biden on Thursday for lunch at a state guesthouse. Earlier in the day, the Director General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, visited him.
Also on Thursday, Emperor Naruhito was received at the Imperial Palace by the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, with a courtesy visit. Naruhito expressed the hope that all athletes will compete in good health and achieve better results. Bach said the Olympic community is doing everything it can to avoid posing a threat to the Japanese.
Experts say the number of viral infections among unvaccinated people under the age of 50 is on the rise.
Vaccinations in Japan started late and slowly, but the pace picked up in May as the government pushed to speed up the campaign ahead of the Olympics, although the pace has slowed since then due to a shortage of imported vaccines.
About 23% of Japanese people are fully vaccinated, well below the level considered necessary to have a meaningful impact on risk reduction in the general population.
On Wednesday, experts warned that the infection in Tokyo is likely to continue to worsen in the coming weeks.
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