Game On? Japan Says Olympics Will Still Be Held, Despite US Travel Alert

The Olympic Games are set to begin on July 23—but that might be in jeopardy

Tokyo Expected To Extend Coronavirus State Of Emergency As Concern Mounts Over The Olympics
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After being postponed and nearly canceled in 2020, the Olympic Games are finally set to begin this year on July 23—though it appears that date may now be in question as well.

On May 25, the U.S. State Department issued a "Level 4 - Do Not Travel"—the highest level of caution for travel to Japan, amid a surge in coronavirus cases in the country. Japan has already been closed to American tourists for over a year with only very limited circumstances in which U.S. citizens could enter.

Japan's positivity rates for COVID-19 have risen steadily since March, when the country's state of emergency was lifted. Meanwhile, the vaccine rollout in Japan has been slow due to both a shortage of medical professionals and a lack of syringes. As of May 28, 2021, only about six percent of Japanese citizens have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. Large-scale vaccination facilities in Osaka and Tokyo will be opening soon to speed up the process of vaccinating Japanese citizens after the Moderna and AstraZeneca shots were approved there on May 21. (The country has recorded more than 700,000 coronavirus cases and more than 12,000 deaths.)

In addition to the new travel alerts possibly affecting the Summer Games, pressure is once again mounting from the public and the medical community to postpone or outright cancel the event. The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, a group of more than 6,000 professionals in Tokyo, recently released a letter calling for the cancellation, while a petition garnering 350,000 signatures in nine days in support of cancellation was submitted to Olympic organizers.

Naoto Ueyama, head of the Japan Doctors Union, expressed similar concerns, warning that grouping tens of thousands of people from across the globe could result in a new “Olympic” variant of the coronavirus.

"All of the different mutant strains of the virus which exist in different places will be concentrated and gathering here in Tokyo. We cannot deny the possibility of even a new strain of the virus potentially emerging," he said in a news conference.

Chief cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato said on Tuesday that Tokyo believes the advisory will not affect U.S. support for holding the Olympics. "We have also received an explanation from the United States that the decision to raise the travel advisory level (to Japan) to Level 4 is not related to the dispatch of the athletes from the United States," Kato told reporters in a news conference.

Olympic organizers and Japanese officials stress that the games will go ahead as planned and will be played under stringent virus-prevention measures. Still, they have also said foreign spectators will not be allowed. A decision on domestic ones is expected sometime next month.

Japan is not the only country to receive the Level 4 warning this week—Sri Lanka, off the southeast of India, was also designated a "Level 4, Do Not Travel" on Monday, and some destinations that have been open to U.S. tourism, including Mexico, Brazil, and Turkey, also currently have the Level 4 designation.

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  1. U.S. Department of State. "Japan International Travel Information." May 28, 2021.

  2. Reuters. "Japan COVID-19 Inoculations to Snail Pace Start Due to Vaccine, Syringe Shortages." March 8, 2021

  3. Reuters. "Critics of Tokyo Olympics Submit Petition Urging Cancellation." May 28, 2021.

  4. Associated Press. "Physician Warns Tokyo Olympics Could Spread Variants." May 27, 2021.

  5. U.S. Department of State. "Travel Advisories." May 28, 2021.