Friday, March 24, 2023

What does a new COVID-19 state of emergency mean for Tokyo and its Olympic dreams?

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Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide implemented a state of emergency in Tokyo on Thursday, nearly a week after the capital’s governor pleaded with the central government to increase precautions in the city to combat a sudden increase cases of COVID-19.

Under the state of emergency, which goes into effect at midnight and will remain in place until at least February 7, Tokyo is asking restaurants to close at 8 p.m., citizens to stay at home, and businesses to let the staff work from home. .

Suga called the restrictions “limited and concentrated” because his government, like all others, struggles to strike a balance between protecting public health and sustaining the economy.

The Japanese economy reversed three consecutive quarters of contraction in the July-September quarter of last year, growing 5% from the same period in 2019. Economists still predict that the national GDP will contract by 5% in the fiscal year ending April 2021, but it could rebound with growth of more than 3% the following year. Yes, that is to say, the pandemic is well contained.

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“We will take the most effective measures to prevent the spread of the virus rather than to stop economic activity at all levels,” said Minister in charge of the response to the virus in Japan, Yasutoshi Nishimura, said Thursday. “We are determined to bend the curve during the emergency declaration period.”

Japan is currently riding a new wave of coronavirus cases, registering a record 4,520 new coronavirus cases last Thursday. Cases broke that record again on Tuesday, with 4,912 new infections. The current COVID-19 outbreak is mainly located in the country’s capital, Tokyo, which reported 2,447 new cases Thursday – the highest daily rate in the capital so far.

In addition to Tokyo, the prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama which surround the capital will also enter a state of emergency. Japan last declared a state of emergency in April 2020, endowing prefecture governors with special powers, such as the ability to requisition food, medical supplies and land.

Until the number of cases started to rise again in November, Japan had managed the coronavirus without adopting broad lockdown measures like those seen in many Western countries. In reality, even under emergency legislation, governors in Japan have no legal right to restrict the movement of people or the operation of businesses. At most, prefectural authorities can demand that restaurants close early, that people stay indoors, and that businesses roll out work-from-home programs.

There is no punishment for those who do not comply, although Suga has sought to change laws that would allow the government to penalize violators and provide financial assistance to companies that do not comply.

According to the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute think tank, a one-month shutdown could Cost Japan, some $ 16.5 billion in consumer spending. While the state of emergency is currently due to end in four weeks, contagion patterns of Kyoto University suggests it will take two months of tighter restrictions to bring COVID-19 cases down to manageable levels.

Just under 200 days before the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics begin on July 23, a prolonged lockdown in Tokyo threatens to wipe out Japan’s Olympic dreams altogether.

When former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo reluctantly postponed at the Games in March of last year, he said that 2021 would be Japan’s last chance to host the 2020 Olympics. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach seems to agree.

“Frankly, I have some understanding of that, because you can’t forever employ 3,000 or 5,000 people on an organizing committee,” Bach said to BBC in an interview last May. “You cannot change the world sports program of all the major federations every year. You cannot leave the athletes in the dark. “

Tokyo 2020 Olympics are already the most expensive of all summer games in history, says November Oxford University study. The event is also dramatically over budget. Japan initially earmarked $ 7.5 billion towards the cost of hosting the sports competition in 2013. Latest month, organizers said that figure had more than doubled to $ 15.4 billion, with the one-year delay contributing to the rising costs of $ 2.8 billion.

Monday, Suga promised Tokyo will host the Olympics as planned, presenting the sports event as “ambitious proof that people have beaten the coronavirus”. To get there, Suga said vaccine approvals would be fast-tracked so that the rollout could begin in February rather than March.

However, countries that have already started distributing vaccines are finding it difficult to scale up their deployment effectively. Domestic inoculation is proving to be a slow process, and the Olympics must also cope with the safe handling of thousands of foreign athletes, support staff, media and spectators descending to Tokyo from around the world.

In an interview with Japan’s Nikkan Sports, Japan Olympic Games Organizing Committee chairman Yoshiro Mori said Japan will have to decide by May whether foreign fans are invited to attend the July Olympics. Incoming tourists are currently completely stranded from the country.

While economists question if Olympics-related tourism is truly a boon to host countries, blocking foreign supporters would likely reduce the revenue the Tokyo Games earn from ticket sales. Even Japanese nationals seem skeptical of the event. In a survey conducted last year by the Japanese national broadcaster NHK, 30% of respondents thought the games should be canceled.

More political cover of Fortune:


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