Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has vowed to push ahead with plans to hold the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, despite a surge in coronavirus cases in the host city and growing doubts over the Games’ viability
Speaking in parliament on Monday, Suga said every measure would be taken to ensure the Olympics, due to open on 23 July, would be safe, describing them as “proof of humankind’s victory over the coronavirus”.
“We will have full anti-infection measures in place and proceed with preparation with a determination to achieve a Games that can deliver hope and courage throughout the world,” he said.
The measures, which include asking bars and restaurants to close early, and people to avoid non-essential outings, were expanded last week to cover more than half of Japan’s 126 million people.
“In order to restore a sense of safety, I will get the coronavirus pandemic, which has raged worldwide and is now severely affecting Japan, under control as soon as possible,” said Suga, whose approval ratings have plunged over his handling of the pandemic. “I will stand at the frontline of the battle.”
Most Japanese oppose holding the Olympics this year, with a recent poll showing that about 80% believe they should be postponed again – an option ruled out by the International Olympic Committee [IOC] – or cancelled.
One of Suga’s cabinet ministers, Taro Kono, added to uncertainty over the Olympics’ future last week, suggesting in an interview that the Games “could go either way”.
The IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers are expected to reveal their plans for a Covid-secure Games in the spring. Measures reportedly under consideration include requiring athletes to return home soon after they have finished competing and to restrict their movements while they are in Japan.
Japan will barely have begun its vaccine rollout – due to start in late February at the earliest – by the time the Olympic torch relay is due to begin in Fukushima on 25 March.