WASHINGTON — The State Department on Monday warned Americans against traveling to Japan as the country experiences an increase in coronavirus cases less than two months before the start of the Tokyo Olympics.
The move has little practical effect, as Japan’s borders have been closed to most nonresident foreigners since the early months of the pandemic. But the warning is another blow for the Olympics, which are facing stiff opposition among the Japanese public over concerns that they could become a superspreader event as athletes and their entourages pour in from around the world.
The Japanese authorities have insisted that they can carry off the Olympics safely. They have made clear that they intend to proceed with the Games regardless of public discontent and a state of emergency currently in place in much of the country.
Likewise, Japanese officials told the local news media that they viewed the American warning as separate from any considerations for the Games. The State Department declaration is unlikely to affect the United States’ decision to send its athletes to the Olympics. Presumably, most if not all have been vaccinated, although the Games’ organizers are not requiring participants to be inoculated.
Osaka, part of Japan’s second-largest metropolitan area, is struggling to deal with the surge, which has put pressure on its health care system.
20,000 people in Japan connected to the event. In addition, the Japanese organizers of the Games have barred international spectators from attending.
But those moves have not allayed public concerns. About 80 percent of the Japanese public believes that the Olympics, which were delayed by a year because of the pandemic, should be canceled or postponed again, polls show. The approval rating for Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has fallen to the low 30s over his handling of the virus, according to a recent poll by Jiji Press.
Hundreds of thousands of people have signed a petition calling for the Games to be canceled, and protesters have taken to the streets to denounce the event as a threat to public health. In a poll conducted last week, nearly 70 percent of companies said that the Olympics should be stopped or delayed.