TOKYO, Aug.25 (Reuters) – Japan’s top medical adviser blasted International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach on Wednesday for visiting Tokyo again as the country extends emergency restrictions to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Japan will extend the state of emergency to eight more prefectures from Friday, bringing the total to 21 regions from Hokkaido in the north to the island of Okinawa in the south and covering nearly 80% of its population.
In an unusually direct statement from a Japanese official, Dr Shigeru Omi suggested that Bach’s decision to travel to Japan again for this week’s Paralympic Games opening ceremony had undermined efforts to persuade people avoid traveling and working from home.
In response, the IOC said Bach’s visit had been authorized by the Japanese government and was intended to show support for Paralympic athletes.
“We had said time and time again, ‘What kind of message will the Olympics send to the public? “” Omi, the immunologist who chairs the government’s coronavirus advisory committee that approved the emergency plan, said in a parliamentary session.
“We are asking people to work more from home. If (IOC) President Bach has to deliver a speech (for the Paralympic Games), why couldn’t he do it from a distance? Why does he have to bother to come here? Omi said, drawing applause from some lawmakers.
“That kind of common sense should work in these circumstances,” he said.
Bach spent over a month in Japan for the Olympics, which ended on August 8. The IOC said on Wednesday that its latest visit was “part of the IOC’s support for the Paralympic Games and Paralympic athletes and the strong cooperation between the IOC and the IPC”.
Omi’s comments underscored the frustration many felt as the government struggles to bring infections under control. Citizens tire of living under restrictions and businesses ignore repeated requests to promote working from home.
Omi had expressed serious concerns about hosting the 2020 Games, while other members of the medical community opposed it. He had warned that the infections could spread as the public interpreted the hosting of the Games as a sign that he was safe enough to go about his normal business.
HPITALS NEAR CAPACITY
Nomura Research Institute executive economist Takahide Kiuchi estimated the latest state of emergency expansion would result in an additional economic loss of about 420 billion yen ($ 3.83 billion), bringing the total fallout of Japan’s fourth round of emergency restrictions to 3.84 trillion yen.
This overshadows the 1.68 trillion yen boost the economy is expected to see by hosting the Olympics and Paralympics, he estimated.
Months of emergency curbs in the capital, Tokyo, and surrounding areas have failed to reverse a wave of infections and about 90% of the city’s intensive care beds are occupied.
The state of emergency expansion plan will add Hokkaido, Aichi, Hiroshima and five other prefectures from Friday until September 12.
Four other prefectures will be subject to more limited “quasi-emergency” measures, bringing the number of regions under these restrictions to a total of 12 of Japan’s 47 prefectures.
“Maintaining the health system is the top priority to protect the lives of citizens,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said.
With hospital beds almost full, many people were forced to recuperate at home and some died before they could receive treatment.
Securing oxygen stations and nurses, as well as reviewing the use of antibody cocktails for outpatients were among the priorities, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said earlier.
“The working-age population is the driving force (behind the increase in infections),” Nishimura said. “We need to halve the movement of people.”
He added that infections transmitted by children at the start of the school year were another concern.
The government reported 21,561 new cases and 30 deaths for Tuesday.
($ 1 = 109,7700 yen)
Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim and Daniel Leussink; Additional reports by Sam Nussey; Editing by Jane Wardell, Christian Schmollinger and Andrew Heavens
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.