• Kyodo

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A Japanese online petition calling for the cancellation of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics had received over 200,000 signatures at a record pace as of Friday, just two days after its launch, as public fears over the coronavirus pandemic grow with the rapid spread of highly contagious variants.

The petition addressed to International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and other representatives of organizers, said the games should not be held to protect people’s lives amid the global health crisis.

“With the circumstances that we are under, it is certainly unlikely that the Tokyo Olympics could be held safely,” said the English version of the Change.org petition launched Wednesday at noon by lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, who has run multiple times for the Tokyo governorship.

“The lack of medical resources that Tokyo and the rest of Japan is suffering from should suggest just how much the games will cause danger and fear to healthcare workers, citizens, and participants,” it said.

According to Change.org, the anti-Olympic petition has garnered support at a faster pace than any other since the Japanese version of the platform was launched in 2012.

With less than three months until the opening of the Olympics, Tokyo is currently under a COVID-19 state of emergency, which was extended on Friday to May 31 in an attempt to curb infections and ease the strain on hospitals.

Utsunomiya said on Twitter that he planned to collect the signatures before Bach’s scheduled visit to Japan for an Olympic torch relay event on May 17 and meeting with Suga the next day.

But he is expected to continue with the petition until the Olympics are called off, Change.org said in a press release.

Bach and the Japanese organizing committee have both said it is possible to hold the Olympics and Paralympics safely. But media polls have constantly shown that a large majority of people in Japan oppose holding the games this summer following a one-year postponement.

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike and Sebastian Coe, World Athletics president, held a meeting in the capital Friday, during which they reaffirmed their cooperation in the run-up to the Olympics.

While voicing understanding for people in Japan who are worried about the major sporting event, Coe said he will continue working with the host city so the games can deliver hope during this difficult time.

Coe, who led the organizing body of the 2012 London Olympics, watched a marathon test event in Sapporo on Wednesday. At the time, Coe said his visit was intended to show his organization’s support for the Tokyo Games.

On Thursday, the IOC said it will provide athletes attending the Olympics and Paralympics with free doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.

Meanwhile, Japan’s vaccine rollout, which has been criticized as too slow, only began for those aged 65 and over last month, and it will be impossible for much of the general public to be inoculated by the start of the Olympics on July 23.

The Olympics and Paralympics are expected to involve about 15,000 athletes.

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