Japan to expand virus emergency ahead of Tokyo Olympics

Japan is set to further expand a coronavirus state of emergency, currently in Tokyo and five other prefectures, to nine areas as the government is determined to hold the Olympics in just over two months.

Japan has been struggling to slow the infections ahead of the Games. The three additions include Japan’s northern island state of Hokkaido, where the Olympic marathon will be held, as well as Hiroshima and Okayama in western Japan.

The three areas on Sunday will join Tokyo, Osaka and four other prefectures already under the coronavirus restrictions, until May 31, Economy Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters. Bars, karaoke parlors and most entertainment facilities are required to close. Business owner who comply will be compensated; those who don't face fines.

Lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, a representative of an anti-Olympics group, arranges boards showing the current figure of online petition during a press conference after submitting a petition to the Tokyo government calling for the cancellation of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. An online petition calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be cancelled has been submitted to the Tokyo government with over 350,000 signatures on Friday morning. The rollout of the petition comes with Tokyo, Osaka and several other areas under a state of emergency with coronavirus infections rising - particularly new variants. (AP PhotoEugene Hoshiko)

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will make a formal announcement at a government task force meeting later Friday. He’s also scheduled to hold a news conference.

The expansion of the state of emergency is a major shift from the government’s initial plan that relied on less stringent measures that were deemed insufficient.

The addition of Hiroshima to areas covered by emergency measures comes just days after Japanese organizers announced that International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach’s trip originally scheduled for next week to mark the Hiroshima leg of the torch relay, has been canceled.

Suga’s government is under heavy pressure from the public increasingly frustrated by the slow vaccine rollout and repeated emergency declarations. Many now oppose hosting the Olympics, and people appear to be less cooperative with stay-at-home and social-distancing requests that are not compulsory anyway.

Less than 2% of the public has been fully vaccinated.

On Friday, organizers of a petition demanding the cancellation of the Olympics submitted to Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike more than 350,000 signatures collected since early May. The petition says money spent on the Games should be better used on people in financial needs because of the pandemic.