'We cannot postpone again,' says Tokyo 2020 chief amid pandemic fears
The president of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee ruled out a cancellation or further postponement of the Olympics as doubts swirled among city governments and medical professionals whether the event can be held safely amid the pandemic.
Public opinion polls in Japan have consistently shown that a majority want the Games cancelled or put off yet again after being delayed by one year because of the coronavirus crisis. A majority of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly feel the same way, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper reported on Thursday.
“We cannot postpone again,” athlete-turned-politician and organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto said an interview published on Thursday by the Nikkan Sports newspaper.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is likely to call a snap election after the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Asahi newspaper reported, showing his resolve to push ahead with the event.
Foreign spectators have already been barred from the Games, and officials are undecided if Japanese fans will be allowed into venues. Economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura pointed out on Thursday that excited fans, shouting and hugging, could pose a contagion risk.
Towns and cities set to host Olympic training or events have increasingly expressed misgivings, amid concern visitors will spread variant strains of the virus and drain medical resources.
The government of Ota City has been inundated with complaints by residents over a decision to give preferential Covid-19 vaccinations to city and hotel staff tending to Australian athletes, media reported.
The city, about 80km northwest of Tokyo, is the site of a training camp for Australia’s softball squad, which this week became the first national team to arrive in Japan.
Kurume City in the southern prefecture of Fukuoka pulled out of hosting Kenya’s pre-Olympics training camp, the African nation’s Olympics committee said on Wednesday.
A player on Ghana’s Under-24 team tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving in Japan for a friendly match, the Japan Football Association (JFA) said on Thursday. And in Taiwan, the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association said it was pulling out of Olympic qualifier games in Mexico amid infection concerns.
Japan is battling a fourth wave of Covid-19 eight weeks before the scheduled start of the Games, but the country’s vaccine rollout has been slow and 10 regions including Tokyo are under a state of emergency until June 20.
While Japan has avoided the large-scale infections suffered by many other nations, severe cases are rising in the latest outbreak. More than 746,000 cases have been recorded and more than 13,000 deaths.
Shigeru Omi, Japan’s top medical adviser, has become more vocal about concerns that he and other medical experts have about staging the Games.
On Wednesday, Omi told a parliamentary committee it would be abnormal to host the Olympics amid the current state of infections, and organisers had a responsibility to scale down the event if the situation continues.
And on Thursday, Omi told lawmakers that guidance given to the government by public health officials, including himself, was not reaching the International Olympic Committee in charge of the event.
“We are now considering where we should give our advice,” he said. “If they want to hold (the Games), it’s our job to tell them what the risks are.”