Tokyo declares another COVID emergency just as IOC official arrives

(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

I suppose it’s too late to just cancel the Olympic Games in Tokyo at this point, right? But assuming the games go forward, it’s probably going to be eerily quiet in those stadiums. Japan has just declared yet another lockdown and state of emergency in Tokyo because of a renewed surge in the Delta variant of COVID. And to make the optics even worse, they did it on the same day that the president of the International Olympic Committee was arriving to kick off the official ceremonies. Instead of going to the first series of press conferences, IOC President Thomas Bach was immediately whisked away to the IOC headquarters in the city where he will need to self-isolate for three days under the government’s orders. And all of this is taking place while public opposition to holding the games remains in the 80% range and Japanese health officials are condemning the decision to proceed. (Associated Press)

IOC President Thomas Bach arrived in Tokyo on Thursday to find Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihde Suga set to declare a state of emergency, which is likely to result in a ban on fans at the Tokyo Olympics as coronavirus infections spread across the capital.

Bach largely avoided cameras at Tokyo’s Haneda airport and, on a rainy afternoon, went to the International Olympic Committee’s games headquarters in Tokyo, a five-star hotel located in the center of the city. He is reported to need to self-isolate for three days.

Bach’s arrival comes just two weeks before the postponed Tokyo Olympics are set to open. The IOC and local organizers are attempting to hold the games during a pandemic despite opposition from the Japanese public and medical community.

The official lockdown and state of emergency doesn’t begin until Monday and it’s expected to extend through August 22. That means it will be in place for the entirety of the games.

Curiously, the lockdown won’t apply to all businesses. The key targets are bars, restaurants and entertainment venues where alcohol is served. The Japanese government is emphasizing that they don’t want people going out drinking together while “enjoying” the Olympics. Everyone is apparently supposed to sit home and drink by themselves. (That certainly sounds healthy.)

The biggest impact of the order will be felt by those who had planned to watch the games in person. Foreign travel by tourists hoping to attend the games was nixed months ago, but officials had planned to allow domestic spectators to fill the stadiums to 50% capacity. Under the new order, as the Wall Street Journal reports, that plan is almost certainly out the window now as well.

The organizers, who just last month said they would allow some domestic spectators, are now reconsidering. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said Wednesday a state of emergency would be reintroduced in Tokyo next week, which would likely mean banning spectators at Tokyo events completely. Local media said the end of the emergency would be set for Aug. 22, two weeks after the Games finish.

The stakes have been raised by an uptick in infections in Tokyo. On Wednesday the city reported 920 new cases, the highest level since mid-May.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said representatives of Tokyo organizers, the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government will discuss spectator options after government health advisers meet Thursday.

As of Monday, only 15% of Japan’s population had been fully vaccinated. Considering that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga set an ambitious goal of getting all of the senior citizens in the greater Tokyo area and 40% of adults vaccinated before the start of the games, that’s a rather spectacular failure. He’s placing the blame on a combination of factors. There’s been a critical shortage of doctors and nurses who are able to work at mass vaccination sites. On top of that, Japan has encountered significant delays in receiving shipments of the tens of millions of doses they require, so there wouldn’t be enough vials to go around even if they had all of the staffing issues resolved.

Suga is facing some serious political consequences here on top of the human health toll being taken by the virus. Thus far the opposition party has remained relatively quiet aside from voicing opposition to proceeding with the games, but that situation isn’t likely to stay on hold forever. For better or worse, Suga positioned himself as the champion of holding the games and showcasing his country’s ability to persevere during the pandemic. That choice is looking more and more dubious at this point, and his time in the top office may be coming to an end.