Tokyo declares state of emergency three months before Olympics

·2-min read

Japan has declared a targeted state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and two other prefectures, amid a surge in coronavirus cases that comes three months out from the Tokyo Olympics.

Under the new orders, restaurants, bars, department stores and cinemas will close and large sporting events will be held without fans. Businesses serving alcohol have been told to shut, while schools will remain open.

"We absolutely have to limit the movement of people, and we have to do it decisively," said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the pandemic response. "We need powerful, short and focused measures."

Covering about a quarter of Japan's population of 126 million, the emergency declaration will take effect from Sunday and last until 11 May.

Businesses linked to tourism will be most affected by the restrictions, which come during the Golden Week holiday – Japan’s busiest travel period of the year.

"We will be asking for illuminations and neon signs to be turned off… It will be dark at night," Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told journalists, adding the emergency aimed to encourage people to stay home.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the new measures would be "stricter" than with two previous state of emergency declarations.

“From the bottom of my heart, I ask for your cooperation,” he added.

Worst avoided so far

While Japan has managed to avoid the worst of the Covid crisis, authorities are under pressure to act fast following an uptick in infections in the capital.

Figures show that new coronavirus variants are driving serious outbreaks in Osaka and its neighbouring prefectures of Hyogo and Kyoto.

Tokyo was meant to stage the Summer Olympics in July 2020, with the Games delayed by a year when the pandemic took hold. The event will now take place just 10 weeks after the latest state of emergency is lifted.

In a report last month in the British Medical Journal, health experts called for the Games to be reconsidered because of Japan's inability to contain the virus outbreak.

The country has logged a total of some 550,000 virus cases and nearly 9,800 deaths.