Although the sun may set on the 2020 Olympics without too many major hitches, Japan's political leadership faces a fraught September and October. Photo: AFP / Alexey Filippov / Sputnik

While Tokyo’s 2020 Summer Olympics continue unabated, questions are being raised about what Japan will do after the event as Covid-19 case numbers nationwide keep rising.

With a leadership race and national parliamentary election coming up, the attention will switch to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

According to the Tokyo 2020 website, as of Tuesday, 179 Japanese residents connected to the Games – contractors, volunteers, etc – have tested positive for Covid-19 since the Olympics started, as have 120 non-residents – athletes, officials, etc.

Given that a total of 44,997 authorized personnel have arrived from overseas for the Olympics, the latest data suggests that the carefully planned Olympic “bubble” has not burst.

The Summer Olympics finish on Sunday, August 8.

Beyond the walls of the sealed-off, spectator-free venues where the events are taking place in front of TV cameras, the overall situation is particularly problematic in the capital and surrounding areas.

The Tokyo metropolitan government confirmed 3,709 daily coronavirus cases Tuesday as infections continued to surge in the capital. New Covid-19 cases in Tokyo had dipped slightly to 2,195 the previous day after topping 3,000 for five consecutive days through Sunday, Kyodo News Agency reported.

Nationwide, the latest seven day-average for cases is 9,995. That is a grim statistic, given that the country’s record daily infection number on July 31 was 12,340. The rolling average only one month earlier was 1,519 – all according to the  Covid-19 Data Repository by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

The virus, particularly the highly infectious Delta variant, is also seeing infection numbers and related restrictions on the rise in nearby China and South Korea.

In Japan, Covid-19 has not only cast a shadow over the US$30 billion Olympic Games, but the timing of the present resurgence is darkening the outlook for Japan’s politics.

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga faces a rough political road ahead. Photo: AFP / The Yomiuri Shimbun

In the deepest shadow is Prime Minister Suga, who faces an intra-party leadership race in September and – assuming he wins that – is then obliged to fight a national election in October.

On Monday, in a cabinet meeting, Suga adjusted the government’s strategy. That calls for securing hospital beds for those either suffering severe symptoms or who are at risk of severe symptoms, while those with none or mild symptoms will self-quarantine at home.

Previously, asymptomatic patients and those suffering mild symptoms recuperated at accommodation facilities.

“We are working to secure hospital beds so that seriously ill patients and those at high risk can be hospitalized for sure,” he said, according to Japanese media.

“We will also make arrangements to allow other patients to be admitted to hospitals if their condition deteriorates.”

Last week, about 64% of the hospital beds available for serious Covid-19 cases in the capital were occupied, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, new emergency measures announced last week, to run until the end of August, cover 37% of the national population.  

These multiple issues are playing out against the backdrop of one of the slowest vaccination drives in the developed world.

According to Our World in Data, only 30.1% of Japan’s population has been fully vaccinated. That figure falls well behind the UK (57%), Germany (52%), the US (49%) and France (48%), and is barely double that of the global rate – 14.8% – even though Japan is the world’s third-richest nation.