• Tuesday, Aug 16, 2022
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'We cannot postpone again,' says Tokyo 2020 chief amid pandemic fears

  • Published at 02:31 pm June 3rd, 2021
Olympics
File photo of people wearing face masks, following an outbreak of the coronavirus, in Tokyo, February, 2020 Reuters

Japan is battling a fourth wave of infections with just 50 days left to the start of the Games

The president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee ruled out a cancellation or further postponement of the Olympics as doubts grew among officials of city governments and medical experts whether the event can be held safely amid the pandemic.

Public opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Japanese want the Games cancelled or put off yet again, after being delayed a year over the coronavirus crisis.

A majority of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly feel the same way, the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper said on Thursday.

"We cannot postpone again," athlete-turned-politician and organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto told the Nikkan Sports newspaper in an interview.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is likely to call a snap election after the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Asahi newspaper said, showing his resolve to push ahead with the event.

Foreign spectators have already been barred from the Games, set to start on July 23, and officials are undecided whether to allow Japanese fans to attend.

Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said 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 that visitors could spread virus variants and drain medical resources.

Residents of Ota City have inundated its government with complaints over a decision to give preferential vaccinations to city and hotel staff tending to Australian athletes, media reported.

The city, about 80 km (50 miles) northwest of Tokyo, the capital, 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 virus after arriving for a friendly match, the Japan Football Association (JFA) said.

In Taiwan, the Chinese Taipei Baseball Association pulled out of Olympic qualifier games in Mexico because the island's infection situation left the team nowhere to practice.

Even so, Taiwan still hopes its athletes will have a chance to compete, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told reporters, adding that efforts by Japan and international Olympic officials to put on the event were "highly appreciated."

Fourth wave of infections

Japan is battling a fourth wave of infections with just 50 days left to the start of the Games, but its vaccine rollout has been slow and Tokyo is among the 10 regions where a state of emergency will run until June 20.

Japan has avoided the large-scale infections of other nations but severe cases are rising in the latest outbreak. Its tally stands at nearly 750,000, with more than 13,000 deaths.

Top medical adviser Shigeru Omi has become more vocal about experts' concerns regarding the staging of the Games.

On Wednesday, Omi told a parliamentary committee it would be abnormal to host the Olympics amid the current spate of infections, and organizers had a responsibility to scale down the event if the situation continued.

And on Thursday, Omi told lawmakers that guidance to the government from public health officials, including his own, was not reaching the IOC, 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."