• Reuters, Kyodo

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Tokyo 2020 Olympics sponsor Toyota will not run Games-related TV commercials in japan amid lackluster public support for the Olympics, with two-thirds of Japanese in a poll doubting a safe Games can be held during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toyota Motor Corp. Chief Executive Officer Akio Toyoda and other executives will not attend the opening ceremony either, Toyota said on Monday.

“It is true that Toyota will not be attending the opening ceremony, and the decision was made considering various factors including no spectators,” a spokesperson said. “We will not be airing any commercials related to the Games in Japan.”

Toyota has already begun airing its Olympic ads on Comcast Corp.-owned broadcaster NBC in the United States and will continue to do so during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, according to a statement from Toyota Motor North America.

Some 60 Japanese corporations who have paid more than ¥330 billion for sponsorship rights to the postponed 2020 Olympics now face a dilemma of whether or not to tie their brands to an event that has so far failed to win strong public backing.

Two-thirds of people in Japan doubt the country can host a safe and secure Olympics amid a fresh wave of coronavirus infections, according to a survey published by the Asahi newspaper just four days before the opening ceremony in Tokyo.

In the poll, 68% of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organizers to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they were opposed to the Games going ahead.

Three-quarters of the 1,444 people in the telephone survey said they agreed with a decision to ban spectators from events.

As COVID-19 cases rise in Tokyo, which is under a fourth state of emergency, public concern has grown that hosting an event with tens of thousands of overseas athletes, officials and journalists could accelerate infection rates in the capital and introduce variants that are more infectious or deadlier.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said he hopes the Japanese public will warm to the Games once competition begins and as Japanese athletes begin winning medals. The Tokyo Olympics run from Friday through Aug. 8.

Games officials on Sunday reported the first COVID-19 case among competitors in the athletes village in Tokyo, where 11,000 athletes are expected stay during the Games.

On Monday, the Tokyo Organising Committee said it has identified 21 people as close contacts of the three South African men’s soccer team members who tested positive for the coronavirus at the athletes village.

South Africa are set to face hosts Japan on Thursday, when the men’s Olympic soccer tournament starts on the eve of the opening ceremony.

According to the organizers, all of the close contacts are part of the South African soccer team. With most believed to be players rather than staff, the situation raises concerns about the impact on the opening game and the rest of the tournament.

Also on Monday, a female gymnast from the United States tested positive for the coronavirus at her pre-Olympic training camp, the city hosting the athlete said.

The name of the athlete, who is in her teens, has been withheld by the city of Inzai, Chiba Prefecture.

Any major outbreak in the village could wreak havoc on competitions because those either infected or isolating would not be able to compete. Olympic officials and individual event organizers have contingency plans to deal with infections among athletes.

Athletes head to the Olympic Village in Tokyo on Sunday. | KYODO
Athletes head to the Olympic Village in Tokyo on Sunday. | KYODO

On Sunday, six British track and field athletes along with two staff members were forced to isolate after someone on their flight to Japan tested positive for COVID-19.

“Many athletes may have parties or ceremonies before they go to Tokyo where there may be cheering or doing greetings, so they may also risk getting infected in their own countries,” said Koji Wada, a professor at Tokyo’s International University of Health and Welfare and an adviser to the government on its coronavirus response.

The latest surge in cases in Tokyo comes after four earlier waves, the deadliest of which was in January. New COVID-19 cases in Tokyo reached 1,410 on Saturday, the most since the start of the year, with new infections exceeding 1,000 for five straight days.

Most of those new cases are among younger people, as Japan has succeeded in getting most of its vulnerable elderly population vaccinated with at least one shot, although only 32% of the overall population has so far received one dose.

In a Kyodo News poll published Sunday, the approval rating for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s Cabinet has fallen to 35.9%, the lowest level since he took office last year.

The disapproval rating rose to 49.8%, the highest on record for the Suga administration launched in September. With the Summer Games opening Friday, more than 30% still believe the event should be canceled, the Kyodo poll showed.

In the previous survey conducted last month, the support rate for Suga administration stood at 44.0%, while 42.2% disapproved of the Cabinet.

In the two-day survey from Saturday, 87.0% of respondents expressed some degree of concern about Tokyo hosting the Olympics and Paralympics amid the pandemic, while 67.9% doubted the effectiveness of the latest coronavirus state of emergency in the capital.

Following the retraction of a government plan to request lenders and liquor wholesalers to help enforce a ban on restaurants serving alcohol during the state of emergency, 72.3% said Suga was responsible for the confusion caused, while 26.1% said Yasutoshi Nishimura, the minister in charge of the coronavirus response, who suggested the plan, should step down.

With the government slowing down COVID-19 inoculations as vaccine supply is expected to remain limited in the coming months, 58.5% said they were dissatisfied with the rollout.

On the government’s coronavirus measures in general, 64.2% said they do not support them, while 33.9% said they do.

The survey, covering 654 randomly selected households with eligible voters and 1,382 mobile phone numbers, yielded responses from 538 and 527 people, respectively.

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