The recent spike in cases has alarmed Japanese officials, who are considering a state of emergency in Tokyo for the first time since April, and it has led to new restrictions in the capital. The authorities on Monday requested that restaurants and bars close by 8 p.m. to prevent further spread of the virus.
Tokyo reported a record high of 1,337 cases in one day last week, and the local government had already asked residents to refrain from all but essential outings at night. Companies have been encouraged to allow employees to work from home, and universities have been asked to move classes online.
Japan has reported more than 240,000 cases and more than 3,500 deaths linked to the virus, and it has endured several record-setting days in recent weeks. Last month, after recording the country’s first cases involving the more transmissible variant of the coronavirus that first emerged in Britain, the government closed Japan’s borders to foreign travelers.
“We should clearly recognize that the infection situation is in a completely different stage,” Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, said at the time.
The new outbreaks are an ominous development only months ahead of the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed at the height of the pandemic last year. Japanese and international Olympics officials continue to insist that the Games, now scheduled to begin in July, will proceed as planned this summer.
Sumo is not on the Olympic program, but it is Japan’s national sport, with traditions that are hundreds of years old. But in recent years, more foreigners, especially Mongolians like Hakuho, have dominated it. Its top tournaments have also begun attracting more foreign fans, including President Trump, who presented a trophy at an event in 2019.
Motoko Rich contributed reporting from Tokyo.