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Japan extends COVID-19 state of emergency

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JAPAN has extended a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas with infections to June 20 as the COVID-19 pandemic shows no signs of easing less than two months before the Summer Olympics open.

  The state of emergency in the capital and eight other prefectures had been scheduled to end on May 31, but strains on the medical system remain severe.

  Economy Revitalisation Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said the extension is needed as people are increasingly roaming in public, especially in Tokyo and Osaka, “when they should be doing the opposite, and it’s feared that lifting the emergency would cause an instant rebound in infections.”

  The current emergency in the capital and eight other metropolitan areas was to end next Monday, but hospitals in some areas are still overflowing with COVID-19 patients and serious cases hit new highs recently.

  Nishimura told reporters the government proposal of a 20-day extension to June 20 in the nine areas received preliminary approval from experts ahead of an official announcement later Friday. The southern island prefecture of Okinawa is already under emergency status through June 20.

  Olympic organizers have to decide around that date whether to allow any fans at all, after overseas spectators were banned months ago. A plan to prioritize vaccinations for Japanese athletes also is being delayed to around that time, according to media reports.

  The Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23 after a one-year postponement due to the pandemic, and worries about the new variants and Japan’s slow vaccination rollouts have triggered calls from the public and medical experts to cancel the Games.

  Experts have warned that more contagious variants are infecting more people, leaving them seriously ill and flooding hospitals.

  Meanwhile, Japan has lagged on vaccinations due to bureaucratic and planning missteps and shortages. Only 2.3 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated, and the current phase targeting older adults is not scheduled to finish before the Games.

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