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14 May, 2021 13:54

Japan expands Covid-19 emergency area as 350,000 people sign petition demanding Olympics are scrapped

Japan expands Covid-19 emergency area as 350,000 people sign petition demanding Olympics are scrapped

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has announced a state of emergency will be extended to areas with infection spikes, as 350,000 people signed a petition for the Olympic Games – due to be held in Japan this summer – to be canceled.

From May 16 to 31, health curbs currently in place in areas including the capital will now be extended to Okayama, Hiroshima and Hokkaido, the location of the Olympic marathon.

This means nine prefectures in total will be under Japan's third set of pandemic emergency measures by next week. Some cities in Gunma, Ishikawa and Kumamoto have their own restrictions in place.

Speaking on Friday, Suga said the population in the three areas going under the state of emergency “is relatively big and the number of new cases is very rapidly increasing.”

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On Friday, the organizer of a petition to cancel the Olympic Games, set to take place in just 70 days' time, submitted his request to Tokyo city chiefs.

Japanese lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya has garnered more than 351,000 signatures since he launched the petition on May 5.

“Holding the Olympics should be welcomed by everyone, but that is not possible under the current situation. So the Olympics must be canceled,” he told reporters as he filed his request.

Japan's Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa announced on Friday that 45 out of 528 municipalities have shelved their plans to host Olympic athletes this summer owing to concerns over Covid-19.

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Variants of the original Covid-19 virus are believed to be behind the spike in infection rates in some areas of Japan. According to the Health Ministry, cases of the more transmissible N501Y variant first detected in South Africa now account for 70% of infections across the country.

The National Institute of Infectious Diseases also said this week that 70 cases of the Indian variant have now been detected in Japan. Known as B.1.617.2, the variant may also be more contagious than the original strain of the virus and could be behind the recent devastating surge in Covid-19 cases in India.

In March 2021 Olympic officials announced that foreign visitors would not be allowed to attend the Games this summer. Residents of Japan will be able to attend and organizers have said they will honor tickets purchased for the Games before they were postponed last year.

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