Editorial: Japanese government urged to move quickly to Tokyo Games behind closed doors

The Japanese capital, at the center of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games, has seen a new resurgence of coronavirus infections.

Experts are struggling to contain COVID-19 transmissions in Japan before the Tokyo Games open on July 23. The government and the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games Organizing Committee are expected to face serious circumstances and quickly make a decision to hold the games without spectators.

The number of new daily infections in Tokyo exceeded 700 for the first time in about a month. The average weekly infection figures for the capital also fall into stage 4, which means it faces an explosive spread of infections.

Following the lifting of the COVID-19 state of emergency in June, the number of people moving at night in the entertainment districts of the capital has increased.

In the greater Tokyo area, the proportion of infections with the Delta variant – first detected in India and believed to be more transmissible than the conventional coronavirus strain – could exceed 50% by mid-July, according to one estimate.

The government has not backed down on its policy of holding the games with spectators in accordance with the rules applied to other large-scale events held in Japan. However, it has become evident abroad that allowing spectators to attend large events carries the risk of spreading infections. During the current UEFA European Championship football tournament since last month, infections spread among spectators in stadiums and at public events in pubs.

If live audiences are allowed at Olympic venues, the flow of people will inevitably increase outside of venues as well. East Japan Railway Co. has announced that it will provide additional late night train services to the Capital Region during the Olympics. This decision seriously goes against current measures and efforts to curb pedestrian traffic. Moreover, such services could send a misleading message that the train operator and organizers encourage people to go out at night.

If the government quickly develops a policy of holding Olympic events behind closed doors, it could also help the public share a sense of crisis over a resurgence in infections.

At the same time, it is essential to strengthen infection control measures. Depending on the state of infections, the government should not hesitate to call yet another state of emergency.

If the proclamation of a new state of emergency is delayed, experts believe it could put a strain on the country’s medical system. There are also concerns that a spike in infections among the younger working generations could lead to a shortage of hospital beds for mild and moderate cases, which could lead patients to develop severe symptoms of COVID-19 in due to delayed processing.

Coronavirus vaccinations for the elderly population in Japan are progressing. Yet the government should not overestimate the effects of vaccines to curb an increase in severe cases in the future, and eventually loosen its grip on other countermeasures as a result.

When it comes to the Olympics, the Japanese government has often shown a brazen disregard for scientific knowledge. In order to prevent the circumstances from worsening further, the government is invited to take the necessary measures while respecting the opinions of experts as much as possible.

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