The U.S. State Department on Monday strengthened its travel advisory for Japan just two months before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games, warning Americans not to travel to the country due to its “very high level” of COVID-19.
While the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) said American athletes would still be able to compete safely at the Tokyo Games, the announcement was yet another stumbling block as Japan continues to prepare for the games despite growing public opposition.
“We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff by both the USOPC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, 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,” the USOPC said in a statement.
The State Department issued the travel warning to its citizens Monday after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control decided to raise its alert status for Japan to its fourth and highest level.
The CDC issues a level four warning when a country reports more than 100 new cases for every 100,000 people over the previous 28 days. According to the CDC, Japan’s incidence rate reached 120 cases for every 100,000 people on Friday.
“Because of the current situation in Japan, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Japan,” the CDC said in its latest assessment published Monday.
Japanese officials said the announcement wouldn’t affect the sporting event.
“Necessary travel has not been prohibited,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Tuesday. “We understand the U.S. has not changed its position regarding its support of the Japanese government’s commitment to holding the Tokyo Games.”
“I believe (the U.S. State Department) was looking at the situation across Japan when making the decision,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters Tuesday. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure the games will be held safely and securely.”
At present, a state of emergency — which invokes measures that are largely voluntary — is in place in 10 out of 47 prefectures, and will expire on Monday in nine of them. But calls are growing for it to be expanded nationwide or extended until mid-June, as hospitals in certain prefectures are reeling under an influx of COVID-19 patients.
Health minister Norihisa Tamura said Tuesday that extending the state of emergency had “come into view.”
Daily cases need to dip below 500 in Tokyo and 300 in Osaka for the order to be lifted, Tamura said.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Friday the central government would decide later this week whether to push back the expiration of the state of emergency until June in the nine prefectures where the order is set to expire next week.
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