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Japanese impatient with viral steps

TOKYO (AP) – Trains full of passengers returning to work after a week-long national holiday. Disappointed young people drinking in the streets because the bars are closed. Planned protests over a possible visit by the head of the Olympic Games.

As the coronavirus spreads in Japan before the Tokyo Olympics, which begin 11 weeks later, one of the least vaccinated countries in the world is showing signs of tension, both in society and in politics.

The government – desperate to show a worried public that it controls the virus̵

7;s efforts, even as it insists on a major sporting event that more and more Japanese are opposing hosting in a pandemic – announced on Friday a decision to expand and extend the state of emergency in Tokyo and elsewhere. areas until May 31.

For Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the emergency declaration is both a health measure and a political walk, as domestic criticism is heightened by Japan’s apparent determination to host the Olympics at all costs.

Japan avoids applying a firm lock to limit infections, and in past emergencies it has had few teeth, and people and companies are free to ignore regulations. Since then, these measures have been tightened, but they are coming as citizens show increased impatience and less willingness to cooperate, which makes it possible for an emergency alert to be less effective.

The current state of emergency in the prefectures of Tokyo and Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo in the west was due to end on Tuesday. Suga said his government had decided to expand it to those areas and expand it to Aichi in central Japan and Fukuoka to the south.

On Friday, two days after Golden Week holidaymakers returned to their daily routine, Tokyo registered 907 new cases of coronavirus infections, a sharp increase from 635 when the state of emergency began in the capital last month, but well above the target of 100 that some experts recommend.

Officials and experts say significantly fewer people were tested for the virus during the holiday, when many testing centers and hospitals were closed, and be aware that numbers during and immediately after the holiday period may not reflect reality. .

During the holidays, significantly more people than last year were spotted at tourist spots in Kyoto and Nara, despite requests to stay at home. With indoor drinking venues, younger people carrying cans of beer and snacks gather in parks and streets in downtown Tokyo. When the holiday was over, many rejected requests for remote work and returned to their offices on full trains.

The extension deepens uncertainty over the speculative visit of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and whether Japan can safely host the Olympic Games, postponed since last year and currently scheduled for July 23rd. 8.

Despite criticism of the slow pace of virus action, Suga is reluctant to hurt the already pandemic-damaged economy and has pledged to keep the state of emergency “short and intense”, although experts say a little more than two weeks would be too short. to effectively slow infections.

The ongoing emergency is the third for Japan and came just a month after an earlier measure was completed in the Tokyo region.

Less stringent, quasi-emergency measures will be extended to eight prefectures from the current six, where bars and restaurants must be closed earlier.

About 616,000 cases have been reported in Japan since the pandemic began, including about 10,500 deaths.

Medical systems in the most severely affected Osaka are under strong pressure from the outbreak of COVID-19 there, which interferes with ordinary health care, experts say. A number of patients died at home recently after their conditions deteriorated while they waited for vacancies in hospitals.

Past emergency measures allowed only optional requests. In February, the government tightened the anti-virus law to allow authorities to issue binding orders for non-core businesses to reduce their working hours or close, in exchange for compensation for those who comply and penalties for violators.

Stopping requirements will be slightly eased. Bars, karaoke studios and most other entertainment venues will have to remain closed until the end of May, but department stores will be able to operate for shorter hours, and stadiums and concert halls will be able to have up to 5,000 people or half their capacity. .

Wearing masks, staying at home and other measures for the general public remain optional requirements.

The government has also been criticized for deploying snail-rate vaccinations, which cover less than 1% of the population since the start of inoculations in mid-February.


Associated Press writer Foster Klug contributed to this report.

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