While Japan recorded a seven-day average of less than 1,000 Covid-19 cases in March, experts believed the country had overcome the pandemic for the third time in the past year. The country is preparing to host the Olympics in July as new infections are steadily declining.
However, things started to change from mid-April, when Japan was hit by the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. On May 8, Japan’s Covid-19 cases exceeded 7,000 for the first time since mid-January and currently the country’s seven-day average is 4,449, according to Johns Hopkins University.
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Covid situation in Japan
With Japan witnessing Covid-19 cases at a rate never seen before, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has already announced emergencies in nine prefectures in the country, including Tokyo – the venue for the July Olympics.
The order is to remain in place in the prefectures of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo, Aichi, Fukuoka, Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima.
It came after 13 of the country’s 47 prefectures recorded record daily cases of the coronavirus.
Japan, which still records more than 4,000 cases per day in a prolonged fourth wave, has its medical systems under strain in many cities. Hospitals in Osaka, Japan’s third largest city, are overflowing with coronavirus patients. About 35,000 people nationwide – twice as many as in hospitals – are currently at home with the disease, often falling seriously ill and sometimes dying before they can seek medical attention. Exhausted medics in Osaka told Reuters they had seen “explosive growth in patient numbers.” “Simply put, this is a collapse of the medical system,” Yuji Tohda, director of Kindai University Hospital in Osaka, told the news agency.
Under the emergency measures, restaurants, department stores and other large commercial enterprises have been ordered to reduce their opening hours and food establishments are prohibited from serving alcohol.
The country has recorded more than 700,000 infections and 12,000 deaths from Covid-19 from the virus.
Why did the fourth wave hit Japan so hard?
Vaccine deployment in Japan has been among the slowest in the industrialized world, with only 2.4% of the population fully vaccinated. It didn’t start vaccinating people until February, much later than other developed countries.
Moreover, it was only this week that the government launched mass vaccination campaigns in Tokyo and Osaka. But current government targets require that only those over 65 be fully immunized by the end of July, when the Summer Games are scheduled to begin.
Currently, authorities plan to vaccinate up to 5,000 people in Tokyo and 2,500 in Osaka each day with the Moderna jab, while in June and July this capacity is expected to double.
So far, only about 4.7% of the country’s elderly – those over 65 – have received at least one dose of Pfizer, Moderna or Oxford AstraZeneca injections.
However, progress is considerably slow due to supply shortages and logistical hurdles, such as getting enough local doctors to help. There has also been considerable confusion over how to secure slots. Many across the country have complained about errors when booking their slots for new government-run mass immunization centers and this difficulty is often related to where a reservation is made.
What about the Olympics?
After being postponed for a year, the Tokyo Olympics are set to go ahead despite harsh criticism from around the world. Resistance to hosting the Games in the shadow of the pandemic has also grown in Japan, with one of the country’s biggest business tycoons calling on the government to decide to continue the Games.
In a tweet that went viral, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son said, “Over 80% of people want the Olympics to be postponed or canceled. Who and over what authority is he forced to pass? “
In a poll released this week in Japan, 83% of those polled said they did not want Tokyo to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games. That total was up 14 percentage points from a survey in April. In the Asahi Shimbun newspaper survey last weekend, 43% wanted the Games canceled, 40% wanted it to be delayed again. Only 14 percent wanted the Games to be held this summer, half the number from a previous poll in April.
The medical organization, which represents around 6,000 primary care physicians, posted an open letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on its website on Monday, saying it would “strongly urge” authorities to organize a cancellation.
Athletes also came to express their reluctance to host the Games with Japan’s biggest sports star, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, becoming the latest to join the debate. “Of course I want the Olympics to happen,” she said this week. “But I think there are so many important things going on, especially last year. To me, I feel like if it puts people at risk … then it should definitely be a discussion, which I think it is right now. At the end of the day, I’m just an athlete, and there’s a whole pandemic going on, ”she added.
The US track and field team earlier this week canceled their pre-Olympic training camp in Japan for safety reasons. Even the governor of the province who reportedly hosted the team said he believed “they had made the best possible decision in the current situation.”
The US Center for Disease Control also said that “travelers should avoid all travel” to the country, warning that under “the current situation in Japan, even fully vaccinated travelers are at risk of contracting and spreading” different variants of the disease. Covid.
The Olympics, to date, have only been canceled three times in 1916, 1940 and 1944 – all three cases due to the two world wars. So despite growing criticism and protests, John Coates, vice-president of the International Olympic Committee, pledged that the Games would be held “absolutely” even under Covid restrictions.