The United States has warned its citizens not to travel to Japan, blaming the growing risk of COVID-19 just two months before the long-delayed Tokyo Olympics are due to open.
Japan has avoided the large-scale outbreaks suffered by many other nations, but a fourth wave has led to states of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and eight other regions across the nation of 125 million people.
The government was leaning towards extending the emergency status – set to end on May 31 in most places, including Tokyo – several sources with knowledge of the decision told the Reuters news agency.
The State Department said its decision on Monday was based primarily on government health advice, as well as “secondary factors such as commercial flight availability, restrictions on US citizen entry,and impediments to obtaining COVID test results within three calendar days,” the advisory said.
Japan opened its first mass vaccination centres on Monday in a bid to accelerate its national inoculation programme. Just two percent of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated so far.
Top Japanese officials said on Tuesday they did not expect the US travel advisory to affect the Olympics, which are due to get under way on July 23 and that US support for the Games was unchanged.
“At present, we can see no particular impact,” Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa told a news conference.
The US Olympic and Paralympic Committee also played down the effect of the travel advisory.
“We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff … coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer,” it said in a statement.
Japan aims to finish vaccinating its over-65 year olds by late July, when the Olympics begin, but ministers say the Games do not figure in their rollout schedule, and no date has been announced for other age groups.
In Tokyo, government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said the US advisory would not affect the Olympics.
“It is our understanding that there is no change to the US position to support Japan’s effort to hold the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” he told a regular briefing.
He said Japan had been briefed that the advisory would not affect the US Olympic team and noted the measure was not a ban.
Japan has reported about 12,000 deaths since the pandemic began more than a year ago, overall but a recent surge in infections has put hospitals under strain.
Public opinion is largely opposed to holding the Olympics, which have already been delayed by a year.
International spectators will not be allowed to enter Japan to attend the Games but a decision has yet to be made on domestic spectators.