Japan COVID-19 adviser urges clear risk message as cases surge in Olympic host

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Tokyo
A woman wearing a protective mask, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, walks past a fence outside the National Stadium, the main venue of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, July 28, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

July 29, 2021

By Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan faces its most serious situation since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the country’s top medical adviser warned on Thursday, urging the government to send a “clearer, stronger message” about growing risks, including to the medical system.

Olympic host city Tokyo recorded 3,177 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, hitting a daily record high for a second straight day as a spike in infections puts pressure on hospitals. Nationwide new cases topped 9,500 for the first time, media reported.

“The biggest crisis is that society does not share a sense of risk,” top medical adviser Shigeru Omi told a parliamentary panel. “The numbers (for Tokyo) surpassed 3,000 and this may have some announcement effect. Without missing this chance, I want the government to send a stronger, clearer message.”

The spike in infections adds to worries about the Games, which are taking place under unprecedented conditions including a ban on spectators in most venues.

The surge also spells trouble for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, whose support ratings are at their lowest since he took office last September, ahead of a ruling party leadership race and a general election this year.

Omi said vaccinations would help contain the virus, but many more factors threatened to cause further rises in infections including the prevalence of the highly transmissible Delta variant, weariness of restrictions, and the Olympics.

Only 26.5% of residents of Japan are fully vaccinated and the rollout has hit supply snags recently.

Many Japanese have worried the influx of athletes and officials for the Games will add to the surge, while experts have warned that holding the high profile sports event sends a confusing message about the need to stay home.

Olympic athletes, staff and media must follow strict rules including frequent testing to prevent any spread of the virus from inside an “Olympic bubble”.

Organisers on Thursday announced 24 new Games-related COVID-19 cases including three athletes, bringing the total to 193 since July 1.

Tokyo is under its fourth state of emergency set to run through the Olympics, but the mostly voluntary measures have proven less effective than in the past.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg and Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)