OSAKA – Shimane Gov. Tatsuya Maruyama said Wednesday that unless the situation with the coronavirus improves in Tokyo, the prefecture may cancel local events related to the Olympic torch relay.
In remarks that could create a political domino effect among other local governors worried about their own ability to respond to increased infections if the Tokyo Games go forward, Maruyama indicated he opposed the holding of the Olympics, set to begin on July 23, and the Paralympics. But he stopped short of outright calling for their cancellation.
“It’s difficult to cooperate with the holding of the Tokyo Olympics and the torch relay. I want to make the decision based on whether or not the response of the central government and the Tokyo government to the coronavirus improves,” Maruyama told reporters after a meeting of a prefectural committee in charge of the torch relay activities.
The Olympic torch relay, set to begin in Fukushima on March 25, is scheduled to pass through Shimane Prefecture on May 15 and 16. Current plans, announced by the Tokyo Organising Committee in December, call for the torch relay to pass through 859 municipalities in all 47 prefectures.
Maruyama explained his position by criticizing the way both Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike have responded to the pandemic. He singled out Koike for attending a political event related to last month’s election of the Chiyoda Ward mayor despite an emergency declaration being in effect and people being urged to avoid going outside unnecessarily.
Maruyama pointed out that Shimane Prefecture — which has a population of only 666,000 people, making it one of Japan’s smallest prefectures — has so far had only 280 coronavirus cases in total, while Tokyo, with a population of over 14 million, has had 108,337 cases as of Wednesday.
While no prefectural governor, nor the governor of Tokyo, has any official say in cancelling the games, Maruyama’s comments may lead to similar remarks from other local leaders worried about a spike in infections due to the games or the torch relay, something that could overwhelm local medical facilities with limited resources.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters Wednesday morning that the government was working with the prefectural committees involved with the torch relay to ensure measures to prevent the spreading of infections were taken.
Asked about the Shimane governor’s comments regarding the torch relay, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday afternoon that the Tokyo Games Organizing Committee is proceeding with discussions with prefectural executive committees.
“As for infection control, we’re working in cooperation with each prefecture. If the governor raises the issue, we’ll talk about it,” Kato said.
Kato also dismissed Maruyama’s complaints that there is a difference in the government’s support for Tokyo’s efforts at infection control and those of smaller Shimane Prefecture.
“It doesn’t make a difference whether the population is large or small, urban or not. Support is implemented based on the infection situation,” Kato said.
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