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Japan to extend virus emergency until a month before Olympics

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. (Kiyoshi Ota/POOL/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

The Japanese government recommended extending a state of emergency that includes Tokyo and other major cities, trying to rein in coronavirus infections ahead of the capital hosting the Olympics in less than two months.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, the government’s point man for virus policy said Friday the emergency that was scheduled to end on May 31 would be extended to June 20, a little more than a month before the Tokyo Olympics start on July 23.

A decision on whether to hold the Tokyo Olympics must be made by the end of June at the latest, International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound said in an interview with Jiji Press.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will announce the formal decision, which was expected later Friday, on whether to extend the emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and seven other prefectures, that comprise about 50% of the nation’s economy. Governors of several of the areas under the current declaration have said this week they were seeking an extension or had formally applied.

The move comes after the U.S. on Monday said Americans should avoid traveling to Japan because of the virus. The action — which comes despite far lower infection rates in Japan than the U.S. — is a fresh blow to a country struggling to convince its own public and the international community it’s ready to host the Summer Olympics, following their delay in 2020.

The latest state of emergency, put in place in late April, helped reduce the daily number of recorded infections in the capital from 1,027 on April 29 to 684 on Thursday.

The Japanese government is facing opposition at home over hosting the games amid worries the sports extravaganza could turn into a COVID-19 superspreader event. Nearly 60% of respondents in a Yomiuri newspaper poll this month said the Olympics should be called off and the Asahi newspaper, the country’s second-largest daily, in a Wednesday editorial called for Suga to cancel the games.

As Suga has noted, the International Olympic Committee has the final say. The host city contract cites various grounds for termination, including “if the IOC has reasonable grounds to believe, in its sole discretion, that the safety of participants in the games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized for any reason whatsoever.”

The country’s vaccination rollout, which has picked up speed in recent days, still ranks among the slowest in the developed world — leaving Suga few tools to slow the spread.

The restrictions have meant that bars and restaurants were made to close at 8 p.m. and banned from selling alcohol, while some large stores were closed. Analysts factoring in a longer emergency now see a larger chance of Japan suffering a second straight quarterly contraction.

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