Japan has declared a one-month state of emergency for Tokyo and three nearby prefectures, following a dramatic rise in coronavirus cases.
It comes just six months before the postponed Olympic Games are due to get underway.
Tokyo has seen record daily cases for two consecutive days and there are now concerns about the new strain, which appears to be far more transmissible.
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The state of emergency will run from January 8 to February 7 in Tokyo and Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures, covering about 30 per cent of the country’s population.
“The situation has become increasingly troubling nationwide and we have a strong sense of crisis,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told a news conference.
Suga recently vowed to hold a “safe and secure” Olympics and there have been calls for athletes competing to be vaccinated as a priority.
Politicians have repeatedly stressed the Games must go ahead, despite an increasingly doubtful public.
Ahead of the state of emergency declaration, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said that exhibitions of the Olympics and Paralympics torches around the capital had been postponed.
It is likely a final decision on whether the games will go ahead will have to be made by April.
The Olympics and Paralympics could involve more than 15,000 athletes entering Japan from 205 nations and territories, plus tens of thousands of officials, judges, administrators, VIPS, sponsors, media and broadcasters.
It remains unclear if fans will be permitted, or if fans from abroad will be allowed to enter the country.
Pound: Vaccinate athletes to ensure Olympics goes ahead
Canadian Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the IOC, is confident that the Olympics can still go ahead with global participation as long as athletes can be vaccinated beforehand.
He told Sky News: “In Canada where we might have 300 or 400 athletes – to take 300 or 400 vaccines out of several million in order to have Canada represented at an international event of this stature, character and level – I don’t think there would be any kind of a public outcry about that.
“It’s a decision for each country to make and there will be people saying they are jumping the queue but I think that is the most realistic way of it going ahead.”
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