Amid opposition, Japan PM says has ‘never put Olympics first’

DailyTimes  |  May 11, 2021

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that he has never “put the Olympics first”, as an opinion poll showed nearly 60% of people in Japan want the Games cancelled less than eleven weeks before they are due to open. Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May and is struggling to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases, raising more questions about whether the Games should go ahead. Its vaccination rate is the lowest among wealthy nations. International Olympic officials, Tokyo planners and Suga himself have insisted the Games will go on in “a safe and secure” way. Foreign spectators will not be allowed and planners issued an elaborate set of rules last month aimed at preventing coronavirus infections.

But such arrangements have not eased public worries over the Games that were postponed last year as the coronavirus was spreading around the world. A opinion survey conducted on May 7-9 by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily showed 59% of respondents wanted the Games cancelled as opposed to 39% who said they should be held. “Postponement” was not offered as an option. Another poll conducted at the weekend by TBS News found 65% wanted the Games cancelled or postponed again. More than 300,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the Games since it was launched about five days ago.

Opposition members of parliament grilled Suga for hours about holding the Games under these circumstances. In apparent acknowledgment of the public concern about holding the Games no matter what, Suga, when asked if the Games would go ahead even if infections spiked, replied: “I’ve never put Olympics first”. “My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus,” he said. He repeated that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the final say on the Games and the government’s role was to take steps so they can be held safely. Several test events with foreign athletes have been successfully held, most recently on Sunday. The Games are set to open on July 23 and run until Aug. 8.

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