Tokyo Olympics: Games officials distance themselves from rising COVID-19 numbers in Japan capital

In recent days, sporting records have been smashed across Tokyo, as the Olympic Games continue to grip the world’s attention. 

But one record lost in the excitement of competition is the devastating numbers of COVID-19 caes recorded across the capital and wider Japan.

On Wednesday, Tokyo recorded 3177 new cases of the virus - an "unprecedented" number and the first time more than 3000 infections have been recorded. The previous record was set just a day earlier, with more than 2848 infections registered.

Right now, Tokyo is under a current state of emergency, but as we've come to realise during our time reporting here, it doesn't seem to mean much. 

Restaurants and bars close at a certain time in the evening, and few are selling alcohol. Otherwise, not much seems to have changed, since the emergency measures were enacted two weeks ago.

The Japanese are understandably very cautious of the virus. Nearly everyone wears masks and business owners require shoppers to sanitise their hands, but mostly, life seems to continue as normal for millions here in Tokyo.

As an outsider, it seems strange and sometimes unsettling to travel around, and see large crowds of people making their way through Shibuya, Shinjuku or Harajuku. Outside a monument of the Olympic rings, we could barely move, without bumping into someone wanting to ask about New Zealand or a local wanting a picture beside the Rings. 

That's despite the Japanese public being encouraged to stay home and watch the Games, and avoid travelling out.

Brazil athletes vaccinated before Olympics
Brazil athletes vaccinated before Olympics. Photo credit: Getty

Olympic organisers are distancing themselves from blame, when it comes to exploding case numbers. On Thursday, another 24 Games-related cases were announced, taking the total number since July 1 to 193. 

Games bosses say any number of cases is too many, but are also quick to reassure the world of the measures they have placed on those attending the Tokyo Olympics.  

"You know about the amazing level of testing and the fact that... in fact, to a large extent, there is really no contact between the general public and the Games organisers on a day-to-day basis," says IOC spokesperson Mark Adams.

That might be true for the first two weeks people are in Japan, but after a 14-day quarantine, restrictions are lifted on where people can travel and who they interact with.  

Regardless of whether the Olympics are to blame or not, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is already asking city hospitals to make more space for beds in their wards.

Japan's vaccination rates are now climbing, with about 26 percent of the population receiving two doses of a vaccine. As those numbers rise, officials hope the number of cases starts to fall sharply.

Mitch McCann is a Newshub reporter covering the Tokyo Olympics