Japan Expands COVID State of Emergency While Reiterating Commitment to Host Olympics in July

·3 min read

BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Man in mask standing near Olympic rings in Tokyo

Japan has expanded its current state of emergency, which was declared late last month, but remains hopeful that the Summer Olympics will still go on as planned in July.

On Friday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga added to Japan's state of emergency, the second change to the order in one week, according to ESPN.

In late April, the prime minister first announced that Japan would be undergoing its third lockdown, as Tokyo and three other prefectures — Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo — experienced a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, NPR reported.

At the time, officials said the restrictions — which require a number of businesses, including bars and karaoke parlors, to remain closed —would tentatively last until May 11.

Last week, the order was expanded to include six prefectures, and as of this week, the order now applies to three additional areas, according to ESPN. Included in the latest change is Hokkaido, an island where the Olympic marathon is currently slated to take place.

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"As for the Olympics, I am aware that there are various opinions (about holding the event) but our priority is stemming the spread of infections and protecting the lives and health of the Japanese people," the prime minister said during his announcement on Friday, Reuters reported.

He also said that officials will decide on another possible extension to the emergency order by the end of May. Currently, the restrictions will remain in place until May 31.

A recent survey showed that nearly 60 percent of people in Japan want the Games, which are scheduled to begin in just over two months, to be canceled this year, according to Reuters. Additionally, a petition to cancel the Olympics with 350,000 signatures was sent to organizers on Friday, reported CNN.

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Although officials have admitted that canceling the Olympics is still a possibility, the country has also announced a series of precautions they hope will allow the Games to continue.

In March, officials announced a ban on overseas spectators. There will also be a ban on physical touch, according to a handbook released by the International Olympic Committee.

Under the guidelines, athletes and Olympic officials must always wear a face mask unless they are sleeping, eating or at least six feet away from others while outside. Physical contact — such as hugs, handshakes and high-fives — should also be avoided. Athletes also won't be allowed to watch the events as spectators or travel using public transportation.

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Last month, a senior White House official said they believed it was still too early to recommend whether or not U.S. athletes should travel to Japan.

"We think the Olympics is a wonderful tradition," the official said, "but at the same time, right now, it is probably slightly too early to make a call about what to expect."

Tennis star Naomi Osaka also recently expressed concern about the Games moving forward, even though competing at the event has been a longtime goal.

"I think a lot of unexpected things have happened and if it's putting people at risk, and if it's making people very uncomfortable, then it definitely should be a discussion, which I think it is as of right now," she told reporters on Sunday during the Italian Open, according to the Associated Press.

As of Friday afternoon, Japan has experienced 667,182 positive COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 6,417 new cases being reported in the last seven days, according to a New York Times database.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics this summer on NBC.