Cancelling the already postponed Tokyo Olympics over the coronavirus pandemic remains a possibility as a surge in COVID cases renews concerns about the Games with less than 100 days to go, a senior Japanese politician has said
Toshihiro Nikai, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s number two, said on Thursday the Olympics must be cancelled “without hesitation” if the virus situation is too severe.
A year after their historic postponement, the 2020 Olympic Games remain beset by pandemic problems, with parts of the torch relay forced behind closed doors and public support consistently low.
Organisers and Olympic officials insist the Games will go ahead safely, but Nikai said all options were on the table.
“We need to make a decision depending on the situation at the time,” he told TBS television network. “We need to cancel it without hesitation if they’re no longer possible.”
Asked if he considered cancellation an option, Nikai said: “Yes of course.”
“If the infection spreads because of the Olympics, I don’t know what the Olympics is for.”
He added, however, that he sees the Games as an “opportunity”, and it was “important for Japan to foster excitement with support from the public”.
“We definitely want to make a success. In order to do so, there are various issues to solve. It’s important to solve them one by one.”
The comments were quickly dismissed by an unnamed LDP official, who told the Jiji news agency: “The Games will not be cancelled.”
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she had “been told that the comment meant it is an option”.
“I take it as a message of strong encouragement that we contain the coronavirus by all means,” she said.
Japan’s vaccine minister Taro Kono, meanwhile, mooted the possibility of a total bar on spectators at the Games.
“We’ll hold the Olympics in a form that is feasible,” Kono was quoted as saying by the Asahi newspaper. “There might be no spectators.”
Nikai’s remarks come with fresh worries in Japan about what experts have called the fourth wave of infections.
Record numbers of cases have been reported in Osaka in recent days, and the government has been forced to authorise new restrictions just weeks after lifting a virus state of emergency.
The surge has already forced the Olympic torch relay off public roads in Osaka, and a city in western Japan also announced on Wednesday that it would cancel the public event.
A survey conducted by Kyodo News showed earlier this week 72 per cent of people in Japan want the Olympics cancelled or rescheduled due to the ongoing pandemic. Only 24 percent supported the Olympics and Paralympics going ahead this year.
‘Neither safe nor secure’
Compounding the problem is the comparatively slow rollout of the vaccine in Japan, which has so far only approved the Pfizer-BioNTech version.
About 1.1 million people in the country of 126 million have received a first dose of the vaccine so far, with the rollout only covering the elderly this week.
Despite the problems, Olympic organisers insist the Games can be held safely and have released virus rulebooks to allay public fears.
Athletes will not be required to quarantine or be vaccinated, but will have to limit movements and be tested regularly.
Overseas fans are barred from attending, with a decision on local spectators limits expected later this month.