Just months before the Olympics and Paralympics are set to commence, Tokyo and Osaka have been placed declared in a state of emergency, aimed at stemming surging cases of the coronavirus.
Tougher restrictions such as banning restaurants and bars from serving alcohol and asking major commercial facilities to temporarily close will be in place from through to May 11. It’s reported that International Olympic Committee President, Thomas Bach, is due to visit Hiroshima a week later.
However, Bach has that his reported visit is still in the “planning phase.” Bach’s presence is being criticized by opposition lawmakers who say the Olympics are being prioritized ahead of public safety.
“Japan should decide its own public health policies. There is no reason we should be told by Mr. Bach what to do,” said Yuichiro Tamaki, the head of the Democratic Party for the People.
Bach said the duration of the state of emergency had nothing to do with his planned visit to the city, where he would greet the Olympic torch relay.
“This (state of emergency) is absolutely in line with the overall policy of the government,” Bach said. “But it is not related to the Olympic Games.”
Japan’s third state of emergency is to include shutdown orders for bars, department stores, malls, theme parks, as well as theaters and museums. Even restaurants that do not serve alcohol are being asked to close early, as well as public transportation. Schools will stay open, but universities are asked to return to online classes.
“I hope that the situation is going be better as soon as possible,” Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the organizing committee, said Friday in a online briefing.
She was asked again if there were any plans to cancel the Olympics. The question had disappeared at briefings, but has surfaced again in the last several weeks.
“As the organizing committee, we are not thinking about cancellation,” Hashimoto said.
The IOC gets almost 75% of its income from selling television rights and has seen that cash flow stalled by the postponement. It needs the games to happen.
Tokyo is officially spending $15.4 billion to organize the Olympics, with several government audits suggesting the number is much larger.
The IOC and organizers are hoping to muffle more cancellation questions next week by rolling out the second edition of the “Playbooks,” guides that are to explain how the Olympics can be held safely in a pandemic.
The first edition rolled out in February was vague. Next week promises to offer more details and is likely to include requirements that 15,400 Olympic and Paralympic athletes be tested almost daily while in Japan.
The IOC has said vaccinations are not required to participate in the Olympics, but it has encouraged all athletes to be vaccinated.
The Playbooks are not expected to offer a decision on venue capacities, nor if any fans will be allowed at all. Fans from abroad have already been banned.
“I understand a lot of people are worried and also healthcare workers might be worried,” Hashimoto said. “I think about the feelings of those people — every day I think about this.”