Japan needs to consider scrapping the Tokyo Olympics and speeding up its vaccine rollout amid growing virus infections, according to former Finance Minister Jun Azumi.
"We’re at a point in time when we should seriously consider a cancellation or postponement,” said Azumi, parliamentary affairs chief of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan in an interview Monday. He added that recent polls showed 70% of the public are against holding the Tokyo Games.
With virus cases increasing, the government’s first priority should be to speed up its vaccine drive. To do that, it should cut the red tape that limits the number of people who can give vaccine jabs and distribute doses more efficiently within Japan, he added.
"We need a massive number of people who can actually administer doses,” said Azumi, acknowledging that difficulties securing the vaccines from abroad had also delayed inoculation efforts. "The regulations haven’t been eased and only a limited number of medical professionals have been given permission to administer the shots.”
The comments come amid growing speculation that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will soon place Tokyo and some other cities under a third state of emergency as Japan struggles to contain the latest surge in infections. A renewed emergency and tighter restrictions on activity will delay the economy’s recovery while further testing the resolve of policymakers and Olympic organizers to press ahead with the Summer Games.
Japan has so far administered vaccine doses amounting to less than 2% of its population, and the rollout for the general public only began this month, starting with the over-65s. The pace of delivery isn’t set to speed up until May.
Arguing that the government had entirely underestimated the spread of COVID-19 variants, Azumi said prioritizing the vaccine rollout was the best way to support the economy.
"Boosting the number of vaccinations is the best possible economic policy at this point,” said Azumi.
The economy was seen contracting 4.2% in the first three months of the year before a strong rebound this quarter, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg this month.
The outlook for the second quarter is likely to deteriorate sharply if a renewed state of emergency is imposed, with some economists floating the risk of a double-dip recession depending on the tightness of new restrictions on activity.
"First quarter GDP is unlikely to be great, but the variants’ spread may also pour cold water over the second quarter,” Azumi said.
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