Japan digs in on Games as cases spike

2021-01-14 12:05:13

Insistence that Olympics will proceed comes despite border clamp, fresh curbs Japan on Wednesday expanded a state of emergency to another seven prefectures and banned entry of all foreign travelers, all the while insisting the Tokyo 2020 Olympics would kick off in the summer come hell or high water.   A woman wearing a protective face mask and face shield is seen inside Japan Olympics Museum, a day before the start of the one-year countdown to the Tokyo Olympics that have been postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan July 22, 2020. [Photo/Agencies] The declaration came after the governors of Osaka, Kyoto and other hard-hit prefectures requested the central government to do so. This gives the authorities the ability to place restrictions on residents' movements and business operations. "The severe situation continues in different places in Japan and I think everyone is feeling insecured," Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, adding the government will do whatever it needs to do and Japan has to overcome the situation with the cooperation of the people. After the announcement, prefectures in western Japan like Osaka, Hyogo, Kyoto, and Aichi, Gifu in central Japan, and Fukuoka, to the southwest, and Tochigi, north of Tokyo, will join the greater Tokyo area in entering a state of emergency set to last through Feb 7. The state was imposed in the Tokyo area last Friday after a steep rise of both coronavirus cases and deaths. Now, the state of emergency covers all the densely populated metropolitan areas of Japan. During a House of Representatives Committee meeting on Wednesday, Yasutoshi Nishimura, Japan's minister in charge of coronavirus response, expressed his reluctance to expand the declaration nationwide. "If we work together, we can certainly turn the number of infected people into a declining one," Nishimura said, adding: "We have to carefully think whether we should subject areas to the state of emergency that have kept the number of infections low." On Wednesday, Japan's coronavirus cases had topped 300,000 and the death toll reached 4,187. As infections hover at record levels, the Japanese government also suspended the entry of all foreigners on Wednesday. Under the new plan, no foreigners will be allowed to enter Japan except for special reasons. United front Despite tighter border controls and the expanded emergency, Japan's leaders maintained a united front, vowing the already delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics would kick off as planned on July 23. "Right now, we're working as one with everybody involved in organizing the Games to host them successfully," Katsunobu Kato, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, told a regular news conference on Wednesday. The comments came as local media reported Suga and Bill Gates, the United States philanthropist, had spoken about the Olympic Games on Tuesday in a call arranged by Suntory Holdings CEO Takeshi Niinami. Suga told Gates the Games were "very important" and would "definitely" go ahead, Kyodo News quoted Niinami as saying. Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto dismissed as "fake news" on Tuesday reports the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 committee were to meet next month to decide whether to pull the plug on the Games. Opinion polls have shown a public increasingly oppose to holding the Games. In a weekend survey by NHK, only 16 percent of respondents said the Games should go ahead. Agencies contributed to this story.