A man wearing a protective face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks with the Olympic rings in the background in the Odaiba section in Tokyo. Opposition to the Tokyo Olympics is growing with calls for a cancellation as virus cases rise in Japan.
Eugene Hoshiko
  • Japan is averaging nearly 5,000 new Covid-19 cases per day with the Tokyo Olympics less than three months away.
  • The Japanese government declared a state of emergency in some cities on Friday to combat the spread.
  • Vaccination rates in Japan are only around 2%.
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Japan's commitment to hosting the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo this year is in jeopardy as rising Covid-19 cases continue to plague the country. As of Sunday, Japan had a seven-day average of 4,772 new cases per day, which is up by over 3,700 from where the country was at the beginning of March.

On Friday, the Japanese government announced that it would put Tokyo, and three other major cities, under a state of emergency. Roughly 25% of the country's population stands to be affected by the announcement. Under the state of emergency, restrictions are expected to include the barring of spectators from events, per Japan Today.

The Olympics are set to begin on 23 July, and the state of emergency could affect the setup for the games, even if the declaration ends before torchlight. While the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japanese government have expressed a commitment to ensuring the game commence this summer, one Japanese official, Toshihiro Nikai, secretary-general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has said canceling the Olympics is an option.

"If rising coronavirus cases means 'this is impossible,' we would have to give up," Nikai told Kyodo News.

To date, Japan has recorded 548,000 cases and 9,737 deaths, per JHU CSSE data. Of Japan's 47 prefectures, Tokyo, the host city for most Olympic events, has recorded the most coronavirus cases and deaths (132,000 and 1,840 respectively), followed by Osaka (71,058 and 1,297 respectively), which is also scheduled to host events this summer.

Currently, the IOC is planning to allow Japanese locals in as spectators for the events. But surging Covid-19 cases could result in events taking place in front of small crowds or even empty stadiums. Foreign spectators have already been barred from attending.

Vaccines aren't projected to play a big part in curbing the spread in the coming months, as Japan lags significantly behind other developed countries in terms of vaccine rollout.

To date, just 1.3% of Japan's population have received at least one of two vaccine doses, according to Our World Data, as the country got a much later start on their vaccination efforts, which began on February 17. Japan has administered just 2.3 million vaccine doses so far, according to the New York Times' vaccine tracker, and the country still has 4.8 million health workers left to worry about before vaccination efforts on the general public even begin.

In response to the surging cases, large vaccination centres will open in Tokyo and Osaka in the coming weeks, with one site in the capital able to administer 10,000 shots a day, according to Kyodo News. Still, there are concerns that there will be a shortage of venues and vaccinations once the rollout hits full tilt.

Japanese citizens are not the only group that could go widely unvaccinated by the time the Olympics begins, as the IOC has not made it a requirement for athletes to get vaccinated to participate, according to CNN.

While respective national Olympic committees are prioritising vaccinating their athletes, it is not a global consensus.

Italy's Olympic committee, for example, is opposed to prioritising athlete vaccinations over citizens.

"We already know there are many countries where national athletes are about to be vaccinated," The head of Italy's Olympic Committee Giovanni Malago said at a news conference on January 30. "We will never ask for this, and we don't want it, either. An elderly person has a sacred right to be vaccinated before a 20-year-old athlete is."

In countries like Greece and Hungary, the Olympic committees commit significant resources toward obtaining vaccines for their athletes. Still, they might not be able to vaccinate all of them in time for the Games, according to France 24.

The IOC is implementing several more minor precautionary requirements outlined in a series of playbooks on the official Olympics website. Athletes who violate those requirements could be barred from competition, according to Reuters.

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