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Japan must keep state of emergency, 2021 Olympics 'difficult,' top doctor says

TOKYO (Reuters) - It is too early to consider lifting Japan’s state of emergency over the coronavirus, the head of a powerful physicians’ lobby said on Tuesday, adding that Tokyo would find it tough to host next year’s Olympics without an effective vaccine.

The comments of the Japan Medical Association (JMA) chief highlight the nation’s concerns about a pandemic that prompted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to call the nationwide emergency until the final day of Golden Week holidays on May 6.

Japan is keeping a close watch on virus-related data to decide on an extension beyond May 6, the economy minister said.

While new daily infections have declined, testing is still not sufficient to prove that contagion is under control, JMA president Yoshitake Yokokura told a media briefing.

“I do not believe it will be possible to lift (the state of emergency) across the whole country at this stage,” Yokokura added.

Tokyo confirmed 112 new infections on Tuesday, said national broadcaster NHK, up from the capital’s figure of 39 the previous day, which had been its lowest in four weeks. The national tally stands at 13,614 infections, including 394 deaths, according to NHK.

That tally is still low compared to other nations, but critics say Japan is not doing enough testing to reveal the scope of a problem that has driven some hospitals to the brink.

FILE PHOTO: Medical workers treat a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) patient in the ICU of St. Marianna Medical University Hospital in Kawasaki, Japan April 23, 2020, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

Yokokura blamed a lack of gowns and other protective clothing for the spread of the virus in hospitals, and urged the government to help speed development of treatments and vaccines, so as to preserve any hope of holding the Olympics next year.

“I am not saying that Japan should or shouldn’t host the Olympics, but that it would be difficult to do so,” he said. “Unless an effective vaccine is developed, I expect hosting the Olympics will be difficult.”

The announcement last month of a one-year delay in the 2020 Olympic Games was a major blow for Japan, which had spent $13 billion on preparations.

The Games would be “scrapped” if they could not take place in 2021, Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori said in an interview published on Tuesday.

Since emerging in China late last year, the pandemic has spread worldwide to infect almost 3 million people and kill more than 200,000, prompting experts to warn that the battle on the virus could be prolonged.

Several nations’ laboratories are working to find protective vaccines and drugs to treat virus symptoms. But the need for exhaustive clinical trials of their effectiveness and safety means they could take months to become widely available.

Japan could approve Gilead Sciences Inc’s virus treatment remdesivir as early as May, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

Fujirebio, a subsidiary of diagnostics and laboratory testing service provider Miraca Holdings, sought govrenment approval on Monday for Japan’s first antigen virus testing kits.

Miraca shares surged 4.4% in Tokyo trading on Tuesday, outperforming a drop of 0.1% in the benchmark index.

(Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open tmsnrt.rs/3aIRuz7 in an external browser)

Reporting by Rocky Swift and Tim Kelly; Editing by Richard Pullin and Clarence Fernandez

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