Tokyo Olympics organisers insisted Friday that the coronavirus-postponed Games will still go ahead despite Japan declaring a state of emergency less than 200 days before the opening ceremony.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday announced the month-long measure covering the greater Tokyo area, taking effect from Friday, as the country battles a surge in infections.
Tokyo 2020 chiefs have already said another postponement of the Games — set to begin on July 23 — is out of the question.
And they insisted Friday that the emergency would not derail plans. “This declaration of emergency offers an opportunity to get the Covid-19 situation under control and for Tokyo 2020 to plan for a safe and secure Games this summer, and we will proceed with the necessary preparations accordingly,” organisers said in a statement.
Suga said Thursday that Japan is committed to holding a “safe and secure” Olympics, and that he believes the public mood will change when the country begins vaccinations, currently scheduled for late next month.
But International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told the BBC that he could not “be certain” the Games will go ahead, because “the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus”.
Japan’s state of emergency is less strict than the harsh lockdowns seen elsewhere or even the country’s first virus emergency last spring.
It primarily targets restaurants and bars, which will be asked to stop serving alcohol by 7pm and close an hour later.
But the emergency may harden public opinion against the Games, with a majority opposed to holding them this year even before the third wave worsened.
Tokyo recorded 2,392 new infections on Friday, slightly down from the previous record of 2,447 logged a day earlier. Still, Japan’s outbreak remains comparatively small, with just over 3,850 deaths overall.
Japan has yet to approve a coronavirus vaccine, with Suga saying he hopes the first jabs can begin in late February. Health workers and the elderly are expected to be first in line.
Pound also hinted athletes should be a high priority for a vaccine because they serve as role models.
Pound’s comments seem to contradict IOC President Thomas Bach. Bach said in a visit to Tokyo in November that athletes should be encouraged to get a vaccine, but would not be required to.—AFP