Popular areas of Tokyo were flooded with visitors Saturday despite a surge in COVID-19 cases to a record daily high and the capital’s ongoing coronavirus state of emergency.
“No one around me is talking about the coronavirus,” an 18-year-old high school student from Tokyo’s Ota Ward said while waiting for a friend near the iconic scramble crossing in the capital’s trendy Shibuya Ward. “I haven’t changed my behavior.”
People flocked to JR East’s Shinjuku Station — one of the most trafficked rail stations in the country — to take pictures or videos of a giant 3D calico cat on a large billboard near the station’s east exit that has recently made headlines.
“I’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus,” said one 54-year-old corporate executive from Hiroshima Prefecture as she visited the site with her 17-year-old son. “We’ll only see the cat and won’t go to any other tourist spots.”
Nearby, about 20 people lined up at a facility for coronavirus PCR tests.
“Three of my coworkers were found to have contracted the virus although everyone at my workplace was wearing a face mask,” said Takashi Suzuki, a 55-year-old company employee from Sumida Ward. “So what can I do?”
The government on Friday decided to extend the state of emergency for Tokyo and Okinawa Prefecture — which had been slated to expire Aug. 22. — until Aug. 31. The emergency will additionally cover three prefectures neighboring Tokyo — Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa — as well as Osaka Prefecture starting Monday and running through Aug. 31.
But despite the jump in cases, crowds of people have consistently been seen near sites such as the Tokyo Olympics cauldron in Koto Ward’s Yume no Ohashi district.
“The size of crowd didn’t change from the last weekend,” a security guard said.
Olympic volunteers were calling on visitors to wear face masks and to keep a distance when taking pictures.
While people in areas under the emergency declaration have been asked to refrain from going out, some stressed that venturing out to see the Olympic sites is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“The Olympic cauldron is more important because it’s something that I may not be able to see again in my lifetime,” said Kazuma Nishitani, a 21-year-old university student from Shibuya Ward.
Others voiced concern over the government’s approach to holding the Games on the one hand and asking people to stay home, on the other.
“At a time when a festive mood is growing because the number of gold medals won by Japanese athletes in the Tokyo Olympics is rising, I don’t understand what the government wants to do as it calls on the public to refrain from going out while holding the Games,” one 30-year-old housewife from Shinagawa Ward said.
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