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U.S. Lowers The Travel Risk Rating For Japan, Where COVID Still Shadows The Olympics

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department have issued new travel advisories lowering the threat of COVID-19 in more than 90 countries and territories, including Japan, which is in the grips of a new wave of infections ahead of the Olympics next month.

The CDC lowered Japan from its highest risk category — Level 4 — to a Level 3, on Monday, Reuters first reported. It also moved 61 other countries to the same tier and another 50 were dropped to Level 2 or Level 1. Additionally, the CDC has revised its rating for the United States from Level 4 to Level 3.

Just last month the State Department was warning Americans not to travel to this summer's Olympic host country, issuing a Level 4: Do Not Travel Advisory for Japan. That stirred up international controversy as Japanese officials insisted the nation would be prepared for the Games starting on July 23 after they had been postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

But on Tuesday the State Department followed the CDC's lead, giving the country a new Level 3 rating. The change is not an enthusiastic endorsement as the guidance urges Americans to "reconsider travel to Japan," but it puts the department closer in line with the White House's position on the issue. The Biden administration has endorsedthe Olympic Games in Tokyo despite dire warnings from health experts in Japan.

The country has also been slow in its rollout of the vaccine — less than 4% of the population has been fully vaccinated.
Eugene Hoshiko / AP
The country has also been slow in its rollout of the vaccine — less than 4% of the population has been fully vaccinated.

Health conditions throughout Japan remain grim as officials fail to contain the spread of the virus

As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reported, "The spread in Japan of variant strains of the virus has slowed the decline in case numbers. Some hospitals remain overstretched by COVID-19 patients, and some people have died at home without being able to access medical care."

The country has also been slow in its rollout of vaccines — less than 4% of the population has been fully vaccinated, accordingto the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

The cumulative effect of the circumstances has led to voices being raised in Japan against the Olympics.

But regardless of the grim reality, Japanese officials are adamant that the Games will proceed safely. And the International Olympic Committee plans to implement strict virus-prevention measures that include keeping athletes segregated from the general population. The IOC is also banning overseas fans from the Games.

Doctors warn of an Olympic coronavirus strain

But even with those measures the head of a Japanese doctors' union warned late last month of the dangers of a possible Olympic coronavirus strain with the arrival of tens of thousands of visitors from 200 nations around the world.

"All of the different mutant strains of the virus which exist in different places will be concentrated and gathering here in Tokyo," Naoto Ueyama said at a news conference on May 27, Reuters reported. "We cannot deny the possibility of even a new strain of the virus potentially emerging."

Ueyama added: "If such a situation were to arise, it could even mean a Tokyo Olympic strain of the virus being named in this way, which would be a huge tragedy and something which would be the target of criticism, even for 100 years."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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