Japan focuses on containing virus in Olympic hangover

By Antonio Hermosin Gandul

Tokyo, Aug 9 (EFE).- A day after concluding the strangest Olympic Games to date, Japan begins to take stock of the legacy the sporting event will leave and focuses on trying to contain the record boom in coronavirus infections.

The government and organizers called the games a “success” for being carried out despite the pandemic and without an excessive number of infections within the Olympic bubble, while public opinion became more favorable toward the event as it progressed.

In the midst of an Olympic hangover, and less than two weeks before the Paralympic Games begin, the country now faces the challenge of containing its fourth and largest wave of infections to date while the capital and other regions remain under a health emergency.

The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee highlighted Monday the value of having held the Games “from the point of view of the athletes” after the event was surrounded by uncertainty for months, and underlined the effectiveness of the anti-contagion measures applied.

“We have received many thanks from athletes and national committees. Athletes had been training for many years to show their skills in a short period, and they have been able to do so,” Tokyo 2020 Executive Director Toshiro Muto said in an interview with state channel NHK.

“The measures against the coronavirus have worked and we have been able to celebrate a global event such as the (Olympic) Games. I think that is our best legacy,” Muto said about an event held with empty stands and under strict anti-infection protocols for all its participants.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Monday that the games “were held with unprecedented restrictions” and thanked participants’ “understanding and cooperation” to make possible “a wonderful” and “unforgettable” tournament, in a Twitter video message.

“There were voices from outside Japan saying the measures were too strict. But there were also voices that said the games were possible because they were in Japan,” the prime minister said.

The Japanese, who according to polls were mostly reluctant to host the games in the midst of a pandemic during the previous months, changed their minds as the Olympic event approached and as Japanese athletes won a record number of medals (58 with 27 golds).

Fifty-six percent thought it was positive that the games went ahead, while 32 percent believe they should not have been held, according to a new survey published Monday by Japanese newspaper Asahi. Another poll from television channel TBS showed similar data, with 61percent in favor, and 38 percent against.

Japanese authorities now look to focus all efforts on stopping Covid-19 contagion that has affected the country since mid-July, attributed above all to the spread of the virus’ new and more infectious variants.

Before the sporting event, the executive decided to declare a health emergency in Tokyo and other most populated regions of the country, a measure that mainly entails restrictions for bars and restaurants that will be in force at least until Aug. 31.

But these limitations have not been enough to contain the virus, which has led the government to urge citizens to stay at home and ask for business collaboration. Japan’s laws make it impossible for the government to enforce confinements or the private sector to comply with schedule limitations or alcohol bans.

The average number of daily infections in the capital exceeds 4,000 cases, while throughout the country there have been more than 15,000 daily cases.

Some experts consider the celebration of the games has influenced the relaxation of the population when it comes to respecting authorities’ recommendations, something also supported by the surveys.

Sixty-one percent of the participants in another Asahi poll said Tokyo 2020 motivated more outings or meetings with family and friends, contrary to what the government requested with a view to preventing infections.

The options that remain for the government as the Paralympics approach are to accelerate vaccinations, which have been fully administered to 32.7 percent of the population, and re-educate citizens to comply with social distancing and avoid non-essential outings.

More than 4,300 athletes from around the world will participate in the Paralympic Games, which will also be held in bubble format between Aug. 24 and Sep. 5. EFE


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