The Japanese public’s opposition to holding the Tokyo Olympics may be weakening, according to two new polls, as athletes begin to arrive in the country and the pace of vaccinations starts to pick up.
A poll by the conservative Yomiuri newspaper found 50% of respondents said the event should go ahead in July, a rise from 39% in a similar survey carried out by the paper in early May.
The proportion who said the games should be canceled dropped to 48% from 59%.
Postponement was not given as an option.
National polls have tended to show that a majority of respondents oppose holding the games this summer, backing either a further postponement or cancellation.
Japan’s inoculation drive began to pick up pace in recent weeks as mass vaccination centers opened and as more medical professionals were permitted to administer the shots.
Some athletes including the Australian softball team began arriving in Japan as well, under tight restrictions to control the spread of the virus.
While Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has tried to tout the staging of the Olympics as proof that the world has defeated the coronavirus, many Japanese have been concerned that it could instead become a superspreader event.
For the games, already postponed a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, questions still remain over how Tokyo can hold the global event and keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe from COVID-19.
"It is important to create circumstances where the Japanese public feel safe heading towards the Tokyo Games," Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Friday.
Olympic organizers are set to make a decision later this month on how many spectators — if any — will be allowed to attend the games.
Overseas fans have already been barred in an unprecedented move.
The Yomiuri telephonic poll, carried out from Friday to Sunday, found 26% of the 1,070 respondents want the Games to proceed without spectators, while 24% want a limited number of fans allowed in.
The paper reported in May that 23% wanted the games to be held without fans, while 16% backed limited attendance.
Most of the respondents said that despite fatigue from virus-related restrictions, virus measures for Olympic athletes and participants are not enough.
Although the pace of vaccinations has increased, only a small percentage of the population has been vaccinated, leaving the vast majority still vulnerable to infection.
The health care system is strained in some areas of the country, and Tokyo and nine other prefectures remain under a state of emergency that places tight restrictions on bars and restaurants.
Suga needs to pull off a safe and successful games to avoid damaging his prospects in a party leadership poll in September and a general election that must be held by the end of October.
A separate survey by broadcaster TBS found 44% saying the global sports spectacular should go ahead in some form, up 9 percentage points on last month.
Another 31% were in favor of cancellation, while 24% called for another postponement, the poll found.
Organizers have consistently ruled out another postponement, and Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto last week said only a catastrophe preventing most delegations from attending the games would cause their cancellation.
Signs of softening on the Olympics haven’t translated into higher support for Suga, with approval levels in both polls at their lowest since he took office in September.
The Yomiuri poll showed Suga's approval rating has fallen from 43% to 37%, while the government's disapproval rating has gone from 46% to 50% since May.
About 68% of respondents to the survey said they didn’t approve of his government’s handling of the pandemic, and 58% said the vaccine rollout wasn’t going smoothly.
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