Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Organizing Committee Chair Seiko Hashimoto has said the Games will go ahead as planned, shortly after Japan’s top medical adviser said to hold the event under the current conditions of the coronavirus “is not normal”.
“We cannot put it off again,” Hashimoto said in an interview published Thursday in the Nikkan Sports newspaper.
Shigeru Omi, head of an expert panel that has been advising the Japanese government on its response to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, issued his strongest warning yet about the potential risks of holding the Games.
“It is not normal to have the Olympics in a situation like this,” Omi told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, adding that the organizers must explain to a skeptical public why they are going ahead with the preparations.
Most Japanese don’t want Tokyo 2020 to take place this summer, according to recent opinion polls. Medical journals have questioned the wisdom of allowing 90,000 athletes, media, sponsors, officials and support personnel to enter the country in July, while medical unions say the Games will put additional pressure on health services.
Public broadcaster NHK reported that around 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers who signed up to help during the Games had resigned, but organizers said the lower numbers would not be “particularly problematic” as the decision had been made to ban the entrance of spectators abroad.
“There is no mistake that coronavirus concerns could have been a factor,” as well as scheduling conflicts due to last year’s postponement, Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto was quoted as saying by the Nikkei business newspaper.
Omi, a former regional director of the World Health Organization, did not ask for the cancellation or postponement. But he told MPs: “If we are going to hold the Games in these circumstances… then I think it is the responsibility of the Olympic organizers to scale down the event and strengthen coronavirus control measures as much as possible.
“Only when there is a clear reason to organize the Games, the public will join … it is very important that those involved in the Olympic Games clarify their vision and the reason for the organization of the Games.”
Tokyo 2020 officials have already cut the number of non-athletic participants by more than half to just under 80,000, adding that further reductions could be made depending on the status of infections in Japan. They are expected to decide whether to allow Japanese sports fans to attend Olympic events later this month.
Tokyo and several other regions are under a state of emergency that will end on June 20. While the rate of infections is declining in the capital, there are concerns about the risks posed by the new variants and the slow launch of the vaccine in Japan.
The vaccination program has accelerated in recent days, but only 2.7% of Japan’s 126 million people have been fully vaccinated.
In an attempt to speed up the process with just 50 days before the opening ceremony, the government has said that large companies and universities will be able to begin vaccinating staff and students from June 21.
Japan has avoided the large-scale infections suffered by many other countries, but severe cases have increased during the latest outbreak. It has reported more than 750,000 cases since the start of the pandemic, and around 13,200 deaths, a relatively high number among Asian countries.
Public unrest continues, despite predictions by Olympic officials that sentiment will soften as the opening ceremony approaches.
The Ota city government has been inundated with complaints from residents over the decision to give preferential vaccinations to city and hotel staff caring for visiting Australian athletes, media reported. The city, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Tokyo, is the site of a training camp for the Australia softball team, which this week became the first national team to arrive in Japan.
Additionally, Kurume, a city on the southern island of Kyushu, withdrew from the pre-Olympics training camp venue in Kenya, describing the coronavirus situation in the city as “critical.” Kenya’s Olympic Committee said it had received a letter from Kurume officials saying that the sports facilities originally intended for its athletes would be used as vaccination sites.
So far, more than 100 municipalities in Japan have abandoned their plans to host foreign teams.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism