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Japan plans to lift COVID-19 restrictions ahead of Olympics

Artists to show protest against holding the Olympics via an exhibit

olympics japan 100 reuters The Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower are illuminated with Olympic colours to mark 100 days' countdown to the Olympics | Reuters

Japan will announce a decision on Thursday to ease the coronavirus emergency in Tokyo and six other regions later this week, with the number of daily new cases falling just as the country begins final preparations for the sporting event. The Olympics would begin in just over a month.

Since late March, Japan has struggled to slow the wave of infections due to more contagious variants, with daily new cases soaring above 7,000. And critically ill patients increasing pressure on the healthcare system, especially in Tokyo and Osaka.

Despite the concerns of medical experts and the public about the potential risks of hosting the Olympics, Suga said he is determined to hold a "safe and secure" Olympics starting from today. July 23. Holding the Olympics before the fall election is also a political gamble for Suga, whose support ratings have tumbled over dissatisfaction with his handling of the pandemic, a slow vaccination drive and a lack of explanation of how he intends to ensure the virus doesn't spread during the Olympics.

Experts at Thursday's virus panel meeting gave preliminary approval to the government's plan to downgrade the state of emergency in Tokyo, Aichi, Hokkaido, Osaka, Kyoto, Hyogo and Fukuoka. At a parliamentary Health and Labour Committee last week, Dr Shigeru Omi, head of a government COVID-19 panel warned that holding the Olympics during a pandemic was "unusual" and warned that it would increase the risk of infection. In Tokyo, the number of new cases dropped to about 500 a day from over 1,100 in mid-May. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said it was necessary to adopt effective anti-virus measures.

Artists to protest the Olympics via an exhibit

Japanese citizens, are however against the country hosting the Olympics. Artists are echoing the sentiments through art, AP reports. T-shirts, drawings and other artwork have become a form of protest over the decision to hold the Games. The government is going ahead with holding the games, which was supposed to take place last year, despite a statement calling for cancelling or postponement was issued by The Japan Federation of Medical Workers' Unions.

Artists Sachihiro Ochi, who is also a doctor and Miwako Sakauchi and several others are coming together for an exhibit to protest the Olympics. This would be the third such exhibit. The first one took place in the summer of 2020 and the second one took place in February.

Cities have backed out of hosting athletes and Tokyo hospitals have posted messages on their windows saying ‘Stop Olympics,’ BBC reported. 

The spectator cap at Olympic events is right now at 5,000 or at 50 per cent of the venue’s capacity. But, if government health experts give a go-ahead, after June 20, when COVID-19 restrictions are expected to be lifted in Tokyo, spectator limit for the games could be increased to 10,000. The final decision would be made after taking into account the state of COVID-19 infections and the prevalence of new variants, said the chief cabinet secretary, Katsunobu Kato told The Guardian.

Economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who also overseeing Japan’s coronavirus response, said that it cannot be said for sure that the restrictions would be lifted on June 20. “Now is a critical time to call on the public to suppress infections, and to take initiatives for a stable supply of hospital beds,” he said.

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