Tokyo Metropolitan Government officials are increasingly concerned about whether the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will be held this summer as scheduled, with the coronavirus pandemic showing little sign of abating.
The number of new cases is still on the rise and the capital has been under a third coronavirus state of emergency since April 25, prompting a growing number of people and sponsors to question the feasibility of holding the games.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike has reiterated she will do her utmost to ensure a safe and secure Olympics. But one senior official at the metropolitan government said that “there would be little surprise if she declares the cancellation” of the sporting events.
New infections “are not decreasing at all,” Koike said in a frustrated tone at a meeting prior to the metropolitan government’s coronavirus monitoring conference Thursday.
The metropolitan government initially aimed to exit its third state of emergency quickly by taking intensive measures, after the capital spent 2½ months until late March under the second one.
However, the current emergency, which was originally slated to end May 11, has been extended until May 31 as the resurgence of the virus has continued.
Tokyo is not reporting the same degree of surge in infections as seen around New Year’s because the number of people who traveled during the Golden Week holiday period fell, the senior official said.
But “it would be difficult to hold the Olympics if infections continue to expand,” the official added.
Meanwhile, speculation has grown that Koike will include the cancellation of the Tokyo Games as a campaign pledge for Tomin First no Kai (Tokyoites First), a regional party she created, for the July 4 metropolitan assembly election, whose official campaign period will begin on June 25.
Talk of such a move spread quickly and was coupled with speculation over a return to national politics by Koike.
“We’re not discussing whether to make the cancellation an election pledge,” a senior member of Tomin First said, while noting that party members would have to follow Koike if she decides to do so.
Still, a metropolitan assembly member said that Koike should keep the option in mind.
The time to make a final decision on holding the Tokyo Games is fast approaching, with just two months left until the July 23 opening ceremony.
“It would be difficult to hold (the games) if the state of emergency until the end of May is extended again,” a metropolitan government bureau chief said.
“The governor will make a decision after checking public opinion and the moves of people concerned,” the official continued.
Talk about the viability of the Olympics has picked up in recent days, with the billionaire founder and chief executive of Rakuten Group Inc. calling the Tokyo Olympics a “suicide mission,” while a top executive with Tokyo 2020 sponsor Toyota Motor Corp. said officials of the company felt “conflicted” over the desire to see the Olympics succeed and public concerns about holding the event during a pandemic.
“The fact that we are so late for the vaccination, it’s really dangerous to host the big international event,” Hiroshi Mikitani, who has been an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, told broadcaster CNN. “This is like a suicide mission.”
Some ruling lawmakers have also voiced pessimistic views about holding the Olympics as scheduled, with their skepticism emerging from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, Komeito, after the Golden Week holiday period ended earlier this month.
“Holding the games seems a bit difficult,” said a senior LDP member close to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga. Another lawmaker said the spread of highly contagious variants may make it hard to conduct the events.
Still, the overall message from the International Olympic Committee, local organizers and the central government has been consistent — it’s full speed ahead to the opening ceremony.
Asked earlier this month if there was any scenario in which the games could be canceled or postponed again at this late stage, IOC Vice President John Coates said, “No, there’s not.”
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