Tokyo, July 9 (Jiji Press)–Now that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s scenario of holding the Tokyo Olympics with crowds by lifting intensive coronavirus restrictions in advance has collapsed, his administration can hardly expect buoyancy effects from the big sporting event.
To stop public support for Suga, also head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, from falling further before the next general election, to be held by autumn, the administration is now required to block a fifth wave of coronavirus infections at any cost, critics said.
On Thursday, the Suga government decided that it will declare the fourth coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo after the current pre-emergency intensive restriction period ends on Sunday.
Following the decision, the five parties directly involved in the holding of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, such as the organizing committee and the International Olympic Committee, agreed to bar spectators from competition venues in the capital and the three neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Chiba and Saitama.
Informed sources said the administration had aimed to lift the quasi-emergency coronavirus measures before the July 23 opening of the Olympics and allow up to 10,000 spectators per venue to create a celebratory mood and dispel downbeat public sentiment amid the prolonged pandemic.
The number of new coronavirus cases, however, has remained on an uptrend since June 21, soon after the third state of emergency was removed.
At Tuesday’s meeting of Suga and ministers involved in COVID-19 response, Yasutoshi Nishimura, in charge of economic revitalization, said some experts had called for a fresh state of emergency.
Suga did not make any particular comments at the meeting. But he appeared to be confident in well dealing with the situation by extending the quasi-emergency measures, which still allow 5,000 spectators for large-scale events.
“It was the prime minister who was the most unwilling to declare the fourth state of emergency,” a government source said.
A person close to Suga said, “We were not considering the declaration because there was leeway with the health care system.”
The situation changed abruptly on Wednesday afternoon, when the Tokyo metropolitan government announced that the daily number of new cases had hit 920. This meant that the number of new cases per 100,000 people in the most recent week stood at 32, reaching the worst category under Japan’s four-tier coronavirus scale, calling for a state of emergency.
At a meeting that day, Suga and the relevant ministers concluded after discussions for over an hour that the government had no other way than imposing full emergency restrictions in the capital again.
An LDP executive close to Suga said the decision was “surprising.”
“The pre-emergency measures are losing effectiveness,” a senior government official noted, however.
The change in Suga’s stance led to the “no spectator” accord by the five groups.
But at a meeting Thursday of the government’s expert panel in the fight against the novel coronavirus, a member criticized the Suga administration for sending conflicting messages by asking the public to stay home except for essential outings under the state of emergency while holding the Tokyo Games.
With such a criticism in mind, a senior government official stressed, “We’ll hold the games perfectly successfully without spectators.”
However, the Tokyo Games are no longer a tailwind for Suga.
For the prime minister with declining popularity, getting more and more people vaccinated is the only way to enable his LDP to fare well in the upcoming election for the House of Representatives, the all-important lower chamber of the Diet, the country’s parliament, observers said.
When he met with LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai on Wednesday, Suga said he will concentrate on promoting vaccinations for now, an informed source said.
But a problem of COVID-19 vaccine supply-demand mismatch has quickly emerged for the government.
Unless Suga brings down infections ahead of the Lower House election, the LDP would suffer a setback, a person familiar with the matter pointed out.
If he actually fails to prevent the spread of the virus, he “may be held responsible” as party president, a government source said.
The LDP is scheduled to hold a party leadership election in September.