The head of the Tokyo Olympics said on Friday that Japan had pledged to hold safe games this summer as the rise in COVID-19 cases prompted an increase in infection control and new calls for the Games to be postponed or canceled again.
The government needs to extend quasi-emergency measures to 10 regions as a fourth wave of infections spreads, raising more doubts about whether the Olympics could be held in Tokyo in less than 100 days.
“We do not intend to cancel the Olympics,” said Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto, speaking on behalf of the organizing committee.
“We will continue to do what we can to implement a comprehensive safety regime that makes people feel completely safe.”
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters earlier that the government was considering adding Aichi, Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba to six other prefectures already under control, including the cities of Tokyo and Osaka.
A final decision is expected on Friday afternoon.
Japan’s top health experts have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has entered a fourth wave.
Daily cases in Osaka reached a record 1,208 on Thursday, driven by a virulent British strain of the virus. New infections have risen to 729 in Tokyo, the most since early February, when most of the country was in a state of emergency.
Nearly two-thirds of Japanese said the Olympics should be canceled or postponed, according to a Giji news poll on Friday.
A senior ruling party official said Thursday that canceling this year’s Olympics remains an option if the coronavirus situation becomes too dire. Read more
A relay with a reduced torch is already running. Foreign fans are banned from participating in the games, and officials say domestic fans can also be kept outside. Read more
Olympic and government officials said there could be no further postponement of the Games.
But health experts say it is too risky to hold the games this summer. The problem is compounded by Japan’s relatively slow push for inoculation, which began in February with imported vaccines.
Japan has shown “poor performance” in limiting the transmission of viruses, along with limited testing capacity and a slow spread of vaccination, health experts said in a commentary published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday. Read more
“Plans for the Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer need to be reviewed urgently,” wrote lead author Kazuki Shimizu of the London School of Economics.
“Holding Tokyo 2020 for domestic political and economic purposes – ignoring scientific and moral imperatives – runs counter to Japan’s commitment to global health and security.”
A survey of more than 1,000 Japanese doctors last month found that 75% believe it is better to postpone the games, according to the Ishinotomo doctors’ recommendation company.
University of Kyoto professor Hiroshi Nishiura, an adviser to the government’s pandemic response, insisted in a comment to a magazine this week that authorities were postponing the Olympics by a year to allow more time for vaccination.
Japan launched its inoculation initiative in February, later than most major economies. Only 0.9% of the Japanese audience has received its first shot so far, compared to 2.5% in South Korea and 48% in the United Kingdom.
The Japanese government denied reports last week that it would give athletes priority for vaccination. Australia is a country considering such a move. Read more
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday that the government would do “everything possible” to prevent further infection before the games.
Suga, who is currently on a state visit to the United States, may call Pfizer Inc CEO Albert Burla to ask for more supplies of vaccines, Kyodo news agency reported, citing government sources.
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