.
.
.
.
Coronavirus

New COVID-19 cases near 2,000 in Tokyo a day before Olympics open

Published: Updated:

Tokyo hit another six-month high in new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, one day before the Olympics begin, as worries grow of a worsening of infections during the Games.

Thursday’s 1,979 new cases are the highest since 2,044 were recorded on January 15.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is determined to hold the Olympics, placed Tokyo under a state of emergency on July 12, but daily cases have sharply increased since then.

For the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

The emergency measures, which largely involve a ban on alcohol sales and shorter hours for restaurants and bars, are to last until Aug. 22, after the Olympics end on August 8.

Japan has reported about 853,000 cases and 15,100 deaths since the pandemic began, most of them this year. Still, the number of cases and deaths as a share of the population are much lower than in many other countries.

The Olympics, delayed for a year by the pandemic, begin on Friday.

Spectators are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences allowed at a few outlying sites.

Suga’s government has been criticized for what some say is prioritizing the Olympics over the nation’s health. His public support ratings have fallen to around 30 percent in recent media surveys, and there has been little festivity ahead of the Games. On Thursday, the director of the opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, was dismissed over a past Holocaust joke.

US First Lady Jill Biden meets with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife Mariko Suga at Akasaka Palace State Guest House ahead of the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2021. (Reuters)
US First Lady Jill Biden meets with Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife Mariko Suga at Akasaka Palace State Guest House ahead of the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2021. (Reuters)

In Olympics-related diplomacy, Suga is to meet with US first lady Jill Biden on Thursday and have dinner at the state guest house.

Earlier in the day, he was visited by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Also Thursday, Emperor Naruhito received a courtesy visit from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at the Imperial Palace.

Experts say virus infections among unvaccinated people younger than age 50 are rising sharply.

A sign is seen as a man walks to the PCR sample collection room at the main press center ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games that were postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2021. (Reuters)
A sign is seen as a man walks to the PCR sample collection room at the main press center ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games that were postponed to 2021 due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tokyo, Japan, July 22, 2021. (Reuters)

Japan’s vaccinations began late and slowly, but the pace picked up in May as the government pushed to accelerate the drive before the Olympics, though the pace has since slowed due to a shortage of imported vaccines.

About 23 percent of Japanese are fully vaccinated, way short of the level believed necessary to have any meaningful effect on reducing the risk in the general population.

Experts warned on Wednesday that infections in Tokyo are likely to continue to worsen in coming weeks.

Read more: WHO leader says COVID-19 risk inevitable at Tokyo Olympics