On the eve of the Olympics, Tokyo recorded its highest number of COVID-19 cases in six months

Thursday's 1,979 new cases are the highest since 2,044 were recorded on 15 January.

A street is crowded with people in Tokyo's Shinjuku district on 22 July 2021.

A street is crowded with people in Tokyo's Shinjuku district on 22 July 2021. Source: AAP

Tokyo has hit another six-month high in new COVID-19 cases, one day before the Olympics begin, as worries grow of a worsening of infections during the Games.

Thursday's 1,979 new cases are the highest since 2,044 were recorded on 15 January.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is determined to hold the Olympics, placed Tokyo under a state of emergency on 12 July, but daily cases have sharply increased since then.

The emergency measures, which largely involve a ban on alcohol sales and shorter hours for restaurants and bars, are to last until 22 August, after the Olympics end on 8 August.

Japan has reported about 853,000 cases and 15,100 deaths since the pandemic began, most of them this year. Still, the number of cases and deaths as a share of the population are much lower than in many other countries.

The Olympics, delayed for a year by the pandemic, begin Friday. Spectators are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences allowed at a few outlying sites.

Mr Suga's government has been criticised for what some say is prioritising the Olympics over the nation's health.

His public support ratings have fallen to around 30 per cent in recent media surveys, and there has been little festivity ahead of the Games. On Thursday, the director of the opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, was dismissed over a past Holocaust joke.

Thursday's 1,979 new cases are the highest since 2,044 were recorded on 15 January.
Source: AAP

In Olympics-related diplomacy, Mr Suga is to meet with US first lady Jill Biden on Thursday and have dinner at the state guest house.

Earlier in the day, he was visited by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Also on Thursday, Emperor Naruhito received a courtesy visit from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at the Imperial Palace.

Experts say virus infections among unvaccinated people younger than age 50 are rising sharply.

Japan's vaccinations began late and slowly, but the pace picked up in May as the government pushed to accelerate the drive before the Olympics, though the pace has since slowed due to a shortage of imported vaccines.

About 23 per cent of Japanese are fully vaccinated, way short of the level believed necessary to have any meaningful effect on reducing the risk in the general population.

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


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Published 23 July 2021 at 9:30am, updated 23 July 2021 at 12:49pm
Source: AAP - SBS