The Japanese capital, center stage for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games, has been witnessing yet another resurgence of coronavirus infections.
Experts are finding it difficult to contain COVID-19 transmissions in Japan before the opening of the Tokyo Games on July 23. The government and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games ought to squarely face up to the severe circumstances and swiftly make a decision to hold the games without spectators.
The number of daily new infections in Tokyo has topped the 700 mark for the first time in about a month. The average weekly infection figures for the capital also fall into Stage 4, meaning it is facing an explosive spread of infections.
Following the lifting of the COVID-19 state of emergency in June, the number of people out and about in the capital’s entertainment quarters at night has surged.
In the greater Tokyo area, the proportion of infections with the Delta variant — first detected in India and said to be more transmissible than the conventional coronavirus strain — may top 50% in mid-July, according to one estimate.
The government has not backed down on its policy to hold the games with spectators in accordance with rules applied to other large-scale events held in Japan. However, it has become evident overseas that allowing spectators at large events carries a risk of spreading infections. At the UEFA European Championship soccer tournament underway since last month, infections have spread among spectators at stadiums and during public viewing events at pubs.
If live audiences are allowed at Olympic venues, the flow of people will inevitably grow outside the venues as well. East Japan Railway Co. has announced that it will run late-night extra train services in the capital region during the Olympics. This move severely runs counter to the current measures and efforts to curb foot traffic. Furthermore, such services could send a misleading message that the railway operator and organizers are encouraging people to go on a night out.
If the government swiftly hammers out a policy of holding Olympic events behind closed doors, it could also help the public share a sense of crisis regarding a resurgence of infections.
At the same time, it is essential to step up infection control measures. Depending on the status of infections, the government must not hesitate to call yet another state of emergency.
If the issuance of a fresh state of emergency is delayed, experts say it is likely to put a further strain on the medical system in the country. It is also feared that a spike in infections among young, active generations may result in a shortage of hospital beds for mild and moderate cases, potentially causing patients to develop severe COVID-19 symptoms due to delayed treatment.
Coronavirus vaccinations for the elderly population in Japan are making progress. Yet the government must not overestimate the vaccines’ effects in curbing a rise in severe cases in the future, and end up relaxing its grip on other countermeasures as a result.
When it comes to the Olympics, the Japanese government has often brazenly shown disregard to scientific knowledge. In order to keep the circumstances from aggravating any further, the government is urged to take necessary steps while respecting the opinions of experts to the maximum extent possible.