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Japan declares COVID emergency just ahead of Olympics

TOKYO: Japan today declared a new virus state of emergency in Tokyo and three other regions–Kyoto, Osaka, and Hyogo, citing the rise of infections involving new COVID-19 variants just three months before the Olympic games begin.

The measure will be in effect from April 25 to May 11.

The virus outbreak in the country is still much smaller than in many other countries, but a recent increase in cases has officials and medical professionals concerned, even as the government and Olympic organisers insist the games will go on as planned this summer.

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Yasutoshi Nishimura, the country’s minister for virus response, had previously warned of a “strong sense of crisis,” claiming that current restrictions were insufficient.

The measures will be tougher than Japan’s previous state of emergency, which was imposed in parts of the country beginning in January, but they will still fall far short of the tough lockdowns seen in other parts of the world.

Authorities want bars and restaurants to stop selling alcohol or close, as well as major commercial facilities like malls to close.

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The measure will correlate with the Golden Week holiday, Japan’s busiest travel period of the year, and may include the suspension of some train and bus services to discourage travel.

Spectators will also be prohibited from attending sporting events, which will be held behind closed doors, and remote working will be encouraged.

Although the measures go into effect from Sunday, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has urged residents to take precautions right away, including not having a drink in the street after bars and restaurants close early.

Even businesses have been urged to turn off their lights in the evenings in order to encourage people to stay away.

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