The capital of Japan is facing a second wave of infections just 200 days before hosting the postponed Olympic Games.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said that the government is considering declaring a state of emergency in the metropolitan area of Tokyo as the number of cases of coronavirus has risen in and around the capital.
In recent weeks, Suga, whose handling of the pandemic has led to a decline in his popularity ratings, has been under pressure to take steps to fight the recent increase in infections.
Over the weekend, Governor Yuriko Koike of Tokyo and the governors of the surrounding prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama called upon the government to declare a state of emergency in the local area.
The government of Suga, however, has been hesitant to take action that could damage the third-largest economy in the world, which has recovered since the first state of emergency brought several companies to a halt as shopping and travel and entertainment spending plummeted.
In April, his predecessor, Shinzo Abe, declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and several other parts of the world, which was later expanded nationwide during the first wave of infections with Covid-19.
Concerns are rising that Tokyo’s record cases will soon overwhelm hospitals in the area.
Last Thursday, the city recorded a record 1,337 cases; on Sunday, the number of people with serious symptoms increased to 101, just four fewer in late April than the peak number.
Tokyo is by far the hardest affected of the 47 prefectures in Japan, and together with three neighboring prefectures, Sunday accounted for more than half of the national total.
Although Suga is interviewing government health practitioners, Tokyo’s bars and restaurants might be asked to close by 8 p.m. Kyodo news agency reported, beginning later this week as a temporary measure.
Suga agreed that the latest suggestion to close at 10 p.m. In Tokyo, it did not have any impact, but it noted that similar measures appeared to work in the cities of Sapporo and Osaka.
“Even during the three days of the New Year’s holiday, cases in the Tokyo metropolitan area did not decrease,” Suga told reporters Monday. “We felt a stronger message was needed.”
What type a second state of emergency would take is not clear.
Non-essential firms and schools were asked to close in the spring and individuals were told to postpone non-essential outings. The local and national authorities of Japan do not have the legal authority to implement lockdowns in the European style.
Japan has seen far fewer cases and casualties than the United States and many parts of Europe, but the recent spate of infections – and the discovery of a new, more infectious version of Covid-19 – have raised concerns about the potential of Tokyo to host the 200-day Olympics.
Recently, Suga insisted that the already postponed matches, scheduled to open on 23 July, will go ahead, but opinion polls indicate that most people think they should be cancelled or postponed again. The organisers of Tokyo 2020 and the International Olympic Committee decided that a second postponement would be out of the question.
Of the 3,100 new infections registered in Japan on Sunday, Tokyo accounted for 816, taking the city’s total number of cases to 62,590.