After meeting with ministers and medical professionals, the Japanese Prime Minister has been forced to ban spectators from attending any of the Olympic Games events in Tokyo and the other host cities.
Yoshihide Suga was left with no choice after admitting Japan needed to ‘strengthen its counter-measures’ to coronavirus, with the numbers of cases in the country again on the rise.
“Taking into consideration the effect of coronavirus variants and not to let the infections spread again to the rest of the nation, we need to strengthen our countermeasures,” he said.
Of the 2,180 new cases reported in the whole of Japan on Wednesday, 920 were in Tokyo – the highest daily surge since May. And that, allied to the slow vaccination programme which has seen just 15% of people fully vaccinated, has forced the decision-makers to pull the plug on spectator entry.
Indeed, Suga has declared a state of emergency, which will run from July 12 to August 22 – covering the entirety of the Games.
The event is scheduled to get underway on July 23 with the opening ceremony, before running through until August 8. At the time of writing, there is no suggestion that the various competitions won’t go ahead as planned.
The fact that the Olympics are even going ahead has been met with a general sense of contempt in Tokyo, with many locals protesting and campaigning for the games to be cancelled.
However, many of the athletes – who will represent an estimated 185 different countries – have already begun to arrive in Japan, and will now self-isolate in a designated ‘bubble’ for the next fortnight.
A state of emergency has already been declared on three different occasions in Japan, with the latest lifted on June 17.
What is a State of Emergency?
The president of the Tokyo 2020 committee, Seiko Hashimoto, was apologetic to those that had purchased tickets for the Games.
“It is regrettable that we are delivering the Games in a very limited format, facing the spread of coronavirus infections,” he said.
“I am sorry to those who purchased tickets and everyone in local areas.”
A state of emergency can be declared where a government needs to enforce rules that it would otherwise normally need regulatory backing for. This usually involves taking some freedoms away from the populace, while forcing tough measures on individuals and business owners.
For example, the Japanese government has implemented a curfew for Tokyo’s bars and restaurants – they must close at 20:00 each night and must not serve alcohol at any time. To make this a legally sound position, ministers had to declare a state of emergency, as opposed to hoping business leaders would do so voluntarily.
Usually, declaring a state of emergency is considered an absolute last resort, and is a measure typically only deployed in cases of civil unrest, natural disasters or armed conflict.
It is often a measure linked to dictatorial governments, although a state of emergency has been cleared for use by human rights lawyers at times when the health and wellbeing of a population is at stake – as appears to be the case in Tokyo right now.