News Tokyo Olympic Games 2021 COVID19 cases near Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in 2000

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Tokyo hit another six-month high in new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a day before the Olympics begin, as concerns mount over a worsening infection during the Games.

Thursday’s new cases in 1979 are the highest since 2044 was recorded on January 15.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is determined to hold the Olympics, placed a state of emergency in Tokyo on July 12, but the daily number of cases has since risen sharply.

The emergency measures, which consist largely of a ban on the sale of alcohol and shorter opening hours for restaurants and bars, will last until August 22, after the Olympics end on August 8.

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Japan has reported about 853,000 cases and 15,100 deaths since the start of the pandemic, the most this year.

Yet the number of cases and deaths as a percentage of the population is much lower than in many other countries.

The Olympics, postponed by a year due to the pandemic, start Friday.

Spectators have been banned from all locations in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences in a few remote locations.

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Suga’s government has been criticized for what some believe is putting the Olympics ahead of the country’s health.

His ratings for public support have fallen to about 30 percent in recent media polls, and there has been little celebration for the Games.

On Thursday, the director of the opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, was fired for a joke about the Holocaust.

In Olympic diplomacy, Suga was set to meet with US first lady Jill Biden on Thursday and dine at the state guest house.

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Earlier in the day, he was visited by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization.

Emperor Naruhito also received a courtesy visit from Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, at the Imperial Palace.

Naruhito said he hoped all athletes will compete in good health and achieve their best performance.

Bach said the Olympic community is doing its best not to pose any risk to the Japanese.

Experts say viral infections are on the rise among unvaccinated people under the age of 50.

Vaccinations in Japan started late and slowly, but the pace picked up in May as the government pushed to speed up the drive ahead of the Olympics, though the pace has since slowed due to a shortage of imported vaccines.

About 23 percent of Japanese are fully vaccinated, well below the level considered necessary to have any meaningful effect on reducing risk in the general population.

Experts warned on Wednesday that infections in Tokyo are likely to continue to worsen in the coming weeks.

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