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Olympic organisers defend virus measures as Japan cases surge

Japan hit a record number of new virus cases on Thursday as Tokyo Olympics organisers defended their Covid-19 counter-measures and dismissed any link to the nationwide surge.

Olympic organisers reported 24 new infections among Games participants, the highest yet, bringing the total number to 193, including athletes, media and Olympic employees and contractors.

Meanwhile nationwide infections topped 10,000 for the first time, Japanese media said, with Tokyo reporting a record 3,865 cases.

Reports also said the government would expand a state of emergency to four more regions, and extend the emergency currently in place in Tokyo until August 31.

International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams said there was nothing to suggest a link between the Games and the rising figures in Japan.

“As far as I’m aware there’s not a single case of an infection spreading to the Tokyo population from the athletes or Olympic movement,” he told reporters.

“We have the most tested community probably anywhere… in the world, on top of that you have some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the athlete’s village,” he added.

Organisers also insisted the Games is not putting additional pressure on Japan’s medical system, as experts warn the rising number of cases could lead to a healthcare crisis.

Only two people associated with the Games are in hospital, they said, and half of all those needing care are being looked after by their own medical teams.

“Of 310,000 screening tests, the rate of positivity is 0.02 percent,” Adams added.

Of the Olympic participants reported positive, 109 are residents of Japan, with the rest coming from abroad.

Rising concern

The comments come with rising concern in Tokyo and beyond about a rapid rise in new infections, spurred by the more contagious Delta variant.

Tokyo is already under a virus state of emergency that shortens restaurant and bar opening hours and bans them from selling alcohol, and three neighbouring regions are now expected to impose the same measure.

But experts say the limits do not appear to be working, and have warned people not to drop their guard.

“The current situation is the worst ever,” a top government advisor on the virus warned, according to national broadcaster NHK.

Shigeru Omi, a former top WHO official, said the government and Olympic organisers had the “responsibility to do everything they can… to prevent infections and a breakdown in medical services”.

And the chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association Haruo Ozaki urged the government to “send an effective, strong message”, warning that emergency measures were no longer enough.

Osaki said infections among Olympians and among the Japanese population were “different issues”, but said the Games were having an “indirect impact.”

“People find it hard to think about self-restraint when we’re having this festival,” he said.

Tokyo’s Governor Yuriko Koike however insisted the Games was helping people heed calls to avoid non-essential outings.

“It’s significantly lifting the numbers of people staying at home” and watching on television, she told reporters.

Japan has seen a comparatively small virus outbreak, with around 15,000 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns, but only around a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated.

Strict measures have been imposed for the Games, including a ban on spectators at almost all events and regular testing for Olympic participants.

Japanese media said Thursday the government would expand the state of emergency to three regions around Tokyo and Osaka, in western Japan. 

The emergency measures in place in Tokyo and southern Okinawa had been due to end August 22, but will now last until August 31 in the capital and other affected regions, they said.

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