Japan faces longer state of emergency, casting doubt on Olympics


FILE PHOTO: Pedestrians wearing protective face masks amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic walk past Japanese national flags in Tokyo, Japan, April 8, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan is considering extending a coronavirus spurred state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo, and other major urban areas, sources said on Wednesday, a move that could cast doubt on the planned Summer Olympics.

Officials were leaning toward an extension of the measures in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo prefectures beyond May 11 as the country battles a surge in COVID-19 cases, three sources told Reuters.

The government may make an official decision as early as Friday, one of the sources told Reuters. The Yomiuri Newspaper earlier reported that an extension of the state of emergency was likely.

Extending the measures, which were imposed on April 25, would likely fan persistent concerns about whether the Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to begin on July 23, can be held as planned.

The games have already been delayed once from last year due to the pandemic. The city of Sapporo, on the northern island of Hokkaido, hosted a half-marathon test event on Wednesday.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will meet with senior government ministers on Wednesday to discuss an extension, the Yomiuri reported without citing sources. The Yomiuri did not detail how long an extension might be.

One proposal that has emerged is an extension until the end of the month, according to two of the sources. All three people requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak with the media.

The governor of Osaka Prefecture said an extension of three weeks to a month may be necessary, according to domestic media.

Calls by Reuters to Suga's office were not answered. Japan's government buildings and financial markets were closed on Wednesday for annual Golden Week holidays.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach is expected to visit Japan later this month, but an extension of the state of emergency could prompt renewed calls from the public to cancel the games.

Under the state of emergency in Tokyo and other urban areas, the government required restaurants, bars, and karaoke parlours serving alcohol to close. Large department stores and cinemas were also shuttered, while spectators were banned from big sporting events.

It was uncertain whether the government will loosen any of the operating restrictions on the services sector, the Yomiuri said.

(Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Jane Wardell)

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