Japan Extends Covid State Of Emergency As Cases Explode—Experts Are Split On Whether Olympics Caused Surge

Forbes – Japan is extending its coronavirus state of emergency and setting out strict plans for the Paralympics later this month as cases continue to skyrocket in the wake of the Tokyo Olympic Games, though top officials continue to deny a direct link between the competition and the country’s escalating surge.

Key Facts

The Japanese government said Monday it will extend a state of emergency impacting Tokyo, Osaka, Okinawa and three other regions through Sept. 12 instead of ending it this month as planned, while introducing “quasi-emergency” status in four additional prefectures. 

These emergency measures—including strict restrictions on bars and eateries—will last through the end of the Paralympics, which organizers announced Monday will follow the lead of the Olympics and block fan attendance when it opens Aug. 24. 

The pair of decisions come as Covid-19 cases skyrocket across Japan, a country where just 37% of residents are fully vaccinated and just under half have received at least one dose.

After plateauing in June, new infections began to tick swiftly upwards with the start of the Olympics in late July, and have since more than tripled from an average of 3,900 daily cases to 16,600, according to data compiled by the New York Times.

Deaths are still low (they actually decreased 8% over the past two weeks to an average of 18 per day), but Japan has continued to hit new records for the number of coronavirus patients with severe symptoms in the week following the games, leaving hospital beds in many prefectures fully occupied. 

“If infections continue to surge at the current pace, we won’t be able to save lives that could otherwise be saved,” Shigeru Omi, the Japanese government’s top medical advisor, said at a press conference Friday as the country topped 20,000 new coronavirus infections for the first time.

Key Background

Though the Olympics corresponded with this surge in infections, top officials have continued to deny the event was a direct cause. Both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga have said the precautions imposed during the Summer Games, including a “bubble system” separating those involved with the Olympics from the broader Japanese public, prevented transmission between the two groups. The IOC said it recorded a total of 430 positive tests out of the more than 630,000 conducted during the competition. “We have shown it is possible to keep a pandemic at bay,” said Brain McCloskey, the head of a panel of experts who advised the Olympics on coronavirus countermeasures.

Crucial Quote

“We have shown it is possible to keep a pandemic at bay,” said Brain McCloskey, the head of a panel of experts who advised the Olympics on coronavirus countermeasures.

Contra

But other experts suggest it is too soon to tell, and argue the event may have played a larger role than currently recognized due to how it impacted the public’s behavior. “The hosting of the Olympics and the world gathering in Tokyo has given the wrong signal to the population,” Barbara Holthus, a sociologist at the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo, told Al-Jazeera. Dr. Haruo Ozaki, president of the Tokyo Medical Association, on Saturday acknowledged the festive atmosphere of the event “might have affected the people in ways to loosen up and served as an indirect cause of rising cases.”