In a state of emergency, hit by the fourth wave of coronavirus, with “new variants” and with less than 2% of its population vaccinated.
That’s the current picture for Japan with just three months to go before the Olympics.
On April 23, the Asian country imposed its third state of emergency since the pandemic began in Tokyo, the capital, and the prefectures of Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo.
Japan registered 3,200 new cases this Monday, the worst numbers since late January, when the country was immersed in its third and worst wave of coronavirus to date.
The government announced that the state of emergency would be “short and powerful” and that the containment measures would last two weeks, between April 25 and May 11.
During this time, department stores, restaurants, bars and karaoke bars that serve alcohol will close.
Those restaurants that do not serve alcohol will close early and companies have been asked to make remote work easier. Schools will remain open.
All this, amid doubts and criticism about the celebration of the Olympic Games, which were already postponed in the summer of 2020.
“The Olympic Games will not be very fun if the coronavirus and new variants continue to expand. Businessmen and politicians say it will be exciting and entertaining. It may be true, but it is scary if we are not properly protected,” Mieko Nakabayashi, professor, tells BBC Mundo of social sciences from Waseda University in Japan.
Fourth wave driven by new variants
The impact of the coronavirus in Japan has been less than in many other countries. In total, accumulate about 570,000 cases and 10,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
However, the latest increase in infections is worrying because of its speed and the increase in hospital bed occupancy in the affected regions.
Cases at the national level remained stable since the beginning of March, but the increase has intensified in recent weeks.
In the past 15 months, Japan had experienced three waves of coronavirus, the last in January, which has been the most serious and deadly.
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Now Experts fear that this fourth wave, fueled by more contagious variants of the pathogen, be more durable, as admitted in early April Professor Koji Wada, of the International University of Health and Welfare in Tokyo in statements collected by the Reuters agency.
“The Osaka case is already being devastating and now Tokyo is fighting very hard to avoid a similar situation,” says Nieko Nakabayashi.
Added to the worrying increase in cases is a remarkably slow vaccination campaign compared to other powerful economies.
To date, Japan has vaccinated less than three million of people of its population of 126 million, far from the more than 140 million doses administered in the United States or the more than 46 million in the United Kingdom.
Among those vaccinated are mainly members of the health personnel.
Experts point out that the delay in vaccination is due to greater bureaucratic obstacles to approve vaccines. To date, Japanese authorities have only given the green light to Pfizer’s compound and approval from AstraZeneca and Moderna is not expected until at least next month.
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This Tuesday, April 27, the central government announced the installation in Tokyo of a large-scale vaccination center, where it is expected that armed forces personnel, in addition to health personnel, will expedite vaccination, prioritizing those over 65 years of age, according to reports. the japanese medium The Japan Times.
“Vaccinating as many people as possible, and doing it as quickly as possible, will help relieve pressure on the healthcare system“Taro Kono, the Japanese minister in charge of the vaccination campaign, assured at a press conference.
“Since the new variant is causing younger patients to also suffer from severe conditions, it is important that older patients are vaccinated as soon as possible so that we can then focus on those with previous ailments,” Kono added.
Are the Olympics at risk?
The rate of vaccination and the uncertainty generated by this fourth wave of coronavirus increases the debate on feasibility and safety of the Olympic Games that must begin next July 23.
The celebration of the Games already has strong opposition from public opinion. At the beginning of 2021, a survey by the national media NHK showed that 80% of Japanese people considered that the event should be canceled or postponed.
Last week, Toshihiro Nikai, general secretary of the ruling party, said in a television interview that “canceling” the Olympics remained an “option” if coronavirus infections continued to rise.
Nikai’s warning joins the already postponement of the Olympics from last year and the announcement a month ago that there would be no foreign spectators at the event.
Despite doubts and public opposition, both the government and the International Olympic Committee and the Organizing Committee of the event insist that it will take place and be safe.
“I hope that the coronavirus situation improves with the measures that the government, Tokyo and other regional governments have implemented,” said Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Organizing Committee, after the state of emergency was announced.
“We, as Tokyo 2020, continue to look forward to a speedy return to normalcy and will continue to work closely with relevant parties to ensure that a few Safe and secure Olympic Games“he added.
This committee recently asked Tokyo authorities for 500 nurses to care for foreign athletes, “but most medical staff say this will be impossible if Japanese hospitals face a shortage of workers,” says Nakabayashi.
“This news may worry the population even more. In addition, athletes and companions from all over the world can bring variants that spread rapidly. Some say that A cocktail of variants could become a reality in Tokyo“, adds the expert.
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