No virus emergency, just new Olympic curbs

World | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 18 Jun 2021

Japan's government yesterday approved lifting Tokyo's virus emergency just over a month before the Olympics, but set new restrictions that could sharply limit fans at Games events.

The state of emergency in place in Tokyo began in late April and largely limits bar and restaurant opening hours and bans them from selling alcohol.

That measure will now end in the capital and eight other regions on Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced. It will stay in place in Okinawa.

"The number of infections nationwide has been declining since mid-May and the situation in terms of hospital beds is steadily improving," he said. "On the other hand, in some regions, there are signs that the fall in the number of infections is slowing."

In place of the emergency, the government will implement so-called "quasi-emergency" measures in Tokyo and six other areas until July 11.

The measures will slightly relax the rules on alcohol, allowing sales until 7pm, but still asks restaurants and bars to shut at 8pm.

Crucially, with just five weeks until the pandemic-postponed Games open on July 23, Tokyo is likely to maintain strict limits on the number of spectators allowed at large events. The current state of emergency allows only 5,000 people or 50 percent of venue capacity, whichever is smaller. On Wednesday the government approved an upper limit of 10,000 spectators for areas not under any restrictions.

Those rules are likely to guide Olympic organizers when they decide how many domestic fans, if any, will be allowed to attend.

While cases in Japan have fallen from their fourth-wave peak, some medical professionals fear that crowds of Olympic spectators could fan a new surge.

A report from some of the government's top medical advisers will argue holding the Games without fans would be safest, national broadcaster NHK said yesterday.

The experts will urge that additional rules are imposed if spectators are allowed.

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