The giant Olympic rings are seen over the sea, amid the COVID-19 outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan
Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese Prime Minister, said on Monday that he has never “put the Olympics first”, on the same day that an opinion poll has shown that nearly 60% of people within Japan want the Olympic Games to be cancelled less than three months before they are due to begin.
Japan has extended a state of emergency within Tokyo until the end of May and is currently struggling to contain a surge in cases of COVID-19, raising further questions about whether the Olympic Games should go on. Its vaccination rate is the lowest among the wealthier nations of the world.
International Olympic officials, Tokyo planners and Yoshihide Suga himself have insisted that the Olympics will go on in “a safe and secure” way. Foreign spectators have been banned and planners have issued an elaborate playbook of rules that are aimed at preventing more infections of the coronavirus.
This comes after wealthier countries including the UK should send spare vaccines to poorer nations before organising booster jabs, an official from the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
But a public opinion survey that was conducted from May the 7th to the 9th by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, showed that 59% of people wanted the Games cancelled as opposed to the 39% who said that they should be held. “Postponement” was however not offered as an option.
Another poll that was conducted at the weekend by TBS News found 65% wanted the Games cancelled or postponed further, with 37% voting to scrap the Olympics altogether and another 28% calling for another delay. Over 300,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the Olympic Games in roughly five days since it had been launched.
Asked during a parliamentary committee meeting whether the Olympic Games will continue even if coronavirus infections spike, Suga replied: “I’ve never put Olympics first”.
“My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus,” he added.
He repeated that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the final say on the fate of the Olympics and said that the government’s role is to take steps so they can be held safely. Several test events with foreign athletes have successfully been held, most recently on Sunday.
Arrangements are being made for head of the IOC, Thomas Bach, who had been widely expected to visit Japan in mid-May, to visit in June, with the lifting the state of emergency a prerequisite, media reports said.
Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto said last week that it would be “difficult” for Bach to visit in the middle of a state of emergency.
This comes after mountaineers and authorities at a base camp at Mount Everest in Nepal have said that they are seeing rising numbers of climbers with symptoms for the COVID-19 virus and rising numbers for positive tests, raising the fears of a serious outbreak at the camp.
An official in western Okayama prefecture said on Monday they were considering keeping the Olympic torch relay off of public roads when it passes through the country next week. Though other prefectures in Japan have taken similar steps, they were under states of emergency or other coronavirus restrictions at the time.
John Coates, a top Olympic official, said on Saturday that while the Japanese sentiment about the Olympic Games “was a concern” he could foresee no scenario under which the sporting event would not go ahead. read more
But on Sunday, the Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka said that even though she has waited her entire life to take part in the Olympics, the risks of holding the Tokyo Games should be carefully discussed