• Reuters, Kyodo


Japan's most senior medical adviser said that hosting the Olympics during a pandemic was "not normal" while organizers said thousands of volunteers have quit in advance.

Most Japanese oppose holding the Olympics — due to start on July 23 after postponement from last year — while doctors fear the event would strain a health care system seeing record numbers in critical condition and struggling to vaccinate the nation.

In one of the strongest warnings yet, government medical adviser Shigeru Omi said organizers should explain to the public why they are going ahead.

"It's not normal to hold the Olympic Games in a situation like this," Omi told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

The Olympics and Paralympics are expected to involve about 15,000 athletes from around the world and as many as 78,000 officials and workers from overseas.

Omi said that if the games were to be held under the current circumstances, "then I think it's the Olympic organizers' responsibility to downsize the scale of the event and strengthen coronavirus control measures as much as possible."

With overseas spectators already banned and Tokyo's state of emergency meaning restaurants are not selling alcohol and mostly close by 8 p.m., the atmosphere in the run-up has been subdued.

"It's only when there is a clear reason to host the games that the public will get on board… it's very important for those involved in the Olympics to clarify their vision and the reason for hosting the games," added Omi.

The soft-spoken Omi's unusually stark comments contrasted with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and organizers who have reassured the world they can stage "safe and secure" games.

At a different parliament committee, Omi stressed that it is the duty of medical experts to analyze and express their opinions on possible situations that could lead to an increase in infections.

And on Thursday, Omi told lawmakers that guidance given to the government by public health officials, including himself, was not reaching the International Olympic Committee in charge of the event.

"We are now considering where we should give our advice," he said. "If they want to hold (the games), it's our job to tell them what the risks are."

Toshiro Muto, CEO of the organizing committee, on Wednesday said he knows that there are different opinions for the games, but added, "If we had no choice but to cancel, I think more would be lost than gained."

"The central and Tokyo metropolitan governments have clearly stated that (the games) will be held. It is our mission to work hard so people will not say that the operation was a failure," he told reporters.

Muto revealed that roughly 10,000 of the 80,000 volunteers originally scheduled to help at venues and the athletes' village have quit.

He said their resignations will not be "particularly problematic" for the games, which have been scaled down from their initial plan to minimize the risk of infections and save the cost of the one-year postponement.

He also said the Olympics will involve about 190,000 officials and workers from Japan, including members of the organizing committee, volunteers, security personnel, sponsors and the press. The Paralympics will have about 110,000 such people.

Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo Organising Committee, ruled out a cancellation or further postponement of the games.

"We cannot postpone again," athlete-turned-politician Hashimoto said in an interview published Thursday by the Nikkan Sports newspaper.

Suga has insisted the Olympics and Paralympics can be held safely, regardless of the infection situation in the country and without specifying how to achieve that goal. His lack of explanation for why the Olympics have to take place has drawn public criticism.

John Coates, a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, said last month the games can be delivered even if Tokyo is under a state of emergency, which has also sparked controversy.

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