Japan will host the Tokyo Olympics. The government has declared a “state of emergency” in order to reduce the number of COVID-19-related infections. What is the definition of a state of emergency? What is the procedure for enforcing it? Here’s how it is broken down.


Japan is currently in its fourth emergency state. This has been the case for much of this year in Tokyo. People have become more comfortable with it. They are no longer worried about a situation that is “critically urgent” as the Japanese term implies, but accept it as a new norm. Even as medal winners are celebrated, you can still hear the sirens of ambulances. Since the Olympics opened on July 23, Tokyo has seen record daily cases. This number is more than a thousand. Experts estimate that this could rise to 10,000 in just a few weeks.


It’s not a lockdown. Bars and restaurants are asked to close earlier and not serve alcohol. It is believed that alcohol-addicted people will speak louder than normal, spreading infections. Medical experts disagree with this idea, pointing out that airborne viruses can spread to any place.

There have been slight variations in the states of emergency. However, earlier ones did not ban alcohol. Schools were temporarily closed last year. There were also differences in the affected regions. Some areas were subject to a more stringent control.

Is it really working?

Many would disagree. Tokyo’s streets bustle with people. The commuter trains are jammed and, despite the government’s request that people work remotely, both salarymen and women claim their bosses insist they go into the office.


Although the events are not attended by spectators, they are not completely empty as team and Olympic officials as well as reporters are present. Athletes are tested daily for COVID-19, and others involved with the Games are also regularly tested. Those tests are free. This is in contrast to the general population, who have had to pay hundreds of dollars for such tests.

The Olympic bubble has not been perfect. About 30 people, almost all nonathlete Japanese workers, tested positive one day. Taisuke Nakata is a University of Tokyo professor that has studied the impact of emergency measures on the economy. He says this number is small compared to the movement of more than 126 million Japanese people, and the potential spread of infections. Nakata believes that people may change their actions if there are more cases, but he isn’t certain.


Japan is one of the countries with the slowest vaccination rates. Only about a third are fully vaccinated. People complain that they are not given priority for vaccinations, but the process of signing up online or by phone is slow. It’s like winning concert tickets, with the slots being filled almost immediately after opening.

One might think that Japan, home of Sony Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., would be a major producer. It is dependent entirely on imported vaccines. The next year may not see a Made in Japan vaccine, but it could arrive in 2023. Critics claim that strict regulations regarding vaccine approval, particularly for vaccines, hinder decision-making speed. It’s also about money. Project Warp Speed, a project of former President Donald Trump, cost $2 billion. Japan has allocated 50 billion yen ($500 millions) to vaccine development.

Philippe Fauchet has over 20 years of experience in Japan’s pharmaceutical industry, including as the head of GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis and GlaxoSmithKline. He claims that Japan’s “insular culture”, which is conservative and risk-averse, hindered its response to the pandemic.


Although Japan is known for being a calm and orderly country, protesters took to the streets to protest the Olympics. They claim that tens of thousand people from all walks of the globe send the wrong message in a time of pandemics about the value of human life. The dissatisfaction is deep and the support ratings for Prime Minister Yoshihide Sug are plummeting. Regular Japanese feel the same way, as evident in the silent defiance displayed by those who crowd Tokyo bars during an emergency.