Olympics likely to open during COVID ‘state of emergency’

Sports

People ride escalators with banners to promote the Tokyo Olympics scheduled to open on July 23, in Tokyo, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO (AP) — Surging COVID-19 cases in Tokyo have hit a two-month high that almost guarantees the Japanese government will declare a new state of emergency to start next week and continue for the duration of the Tokyo Olympics.

The pandemic-delayed Olympics open in just over two weeks on July 23.

IOC President Thomas Bach is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on Thursday, when he will be greeted by the rising cases as he self-isolates for three days in the International Olympic Committee’s five-star hotel in the capital.

A new state of emergency could lead to a ban even on local fans. That decision on fans is expected Friday when local organizers meet with the IOC and others.

The present quasi-state of emergency ends Sunday. Tokyo reported 920 new cases on Wednesday, up from 714 last Wednesday. It is the highest total since 1,010 were reported on May 13.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with key ministers to discuss virus measures and reportedly is considering reinstating a state of emergency in the capital until Aug. 22. The Olympics end on Aug. 8.

Suga did not confirm the report but noted Tokyo’s upsurge and vowed “to do everything we can to prevent the further spread of the infections.”

Suga said he would make a final decision Thursday after consulting with a panel of experts.

Fans from abroad were banned from attending the Olympics months ago. But just two weeks ago, organizers and the IOC decided to allow venues to be filed to 50% of capacity but not to exceed 10,000.

U.S. teams have been getting regular updates about what may change leading up to their arrival in Tokyo, and addressing any concerns they may have.

“I don’t know what fans are going to be there,” U.S. men’s basketball coach Gregg Popovich said at his team’s training camp in Las Vegas on Wednesday. “I don’t know, the way it is, even what Japanese fans are going to be there.”

The soaring cases are likely to mean that venues will be without any fans, although sponsors and others may have access. The no-fan atmosphere could include the opening ceremony at the $1.4 billion National Stadium.

“The infections are in their expansion phase and everyone in this country must firmly understand the seriousness of it,” Dr. Shigeru Omi, a top government medical adviser, told reporters.

He urged authorities to quickly take tough measures ahead of the Olympics with summer vacations approaching.

“The period from July to September is the most critical time for Japan’s COVID-19 measures,” Omi said.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters that she expects the government to declare a state of emergency in Tokyo, a fourth for the capital since the pandemic began early last year.

Separately, a government COVID-19 advisory panel met Wednesday and expressed concerns about the ongoing resurgence of the infections.

“Two-thirds of the infections in the capital region are from Tokyo, and our concern is the spread of the infections to neighboring areas,” said Ryuji Wakita, director-general of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases.

The Olympics are pushing ahead against most medical advice, partially because the postponement of 15 months stalled the IOC’s income flow. It gets almost 75% of its income from selling broadcast rights, and estimates suggest it would lose between $3 billion and $4 billion if the Olympics were canceled.

Nationwide, Japan has had about 810,000 cases and nearly 14,900 deaths. Only 15% of the Japanese are fully vaccinated, still low compared to 47.4% in the United States and almost 50% in Britain.

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