Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga faces the challenge of delivering on his pledge to ensure the success of the Tokyo Olympics while preventing a spread of COVID-19 infections during the Games.
The Olympics officially open Friday under pressure from a COVID-19 state of emergency issued in the host city.
Suga said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that he had been advised many times that it would be best to cancel the Games.
“The simplest thing and the easiest thing is to quit,” he said, but “the government’s job is to tackle challenges.”
Suga said, “If you compare our number of infections to countries abroad, we have fewer by a whole order of magnitude.”
The COVID-19 situation has been worsening in Japan. New infection cases in Tokyo hit a six-month high of 1,979 on Thursday. Some infectious disease experts warn that the number could top 3,000 next week.
In addition, cases have been reported among Olympic athletes and officials. The situation is far from being a safe and secure Olympics, which Suga aims to achieve.
Some people have expressed frustration over Japanese leaders’ decision to hold the Olympics amid the pandemic while forcing other sporting and music events to be canceled.
Suga’s public approval ratings fell to their lowest levels since taking office in September. If he fails to deliver on his Olympics pledge, the political pressure on him is expected to intensify.
Aides to Suga had hoped that the Olympics would help him win re-election as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and lead the LDP to victory in a general election in the autumn.
But they now think that momentum has been waning since the government was forced to declare its fourth COVID-19 state of emergency for Tokyo earlier this month.
On Friday, Suga apparently asked Pfizer Inc. to move up the supply of its COVID-19 vaccine to the country.
The Japanese leader made the request during a meeting in Tokyo with Albert Bourla, CEO of the major U.S. drugmaker, at a time when local governments in Japan are asking the national government to ensure stable supplies of novel coronavirus vaccines, sources with access to the meeting said.
Suga thanked Bourla for Pfizer’s distribution of its vaccine to Olympic and Paralympic delegations around the world free of charge. The Pfizer leader responded by saying that he prays for the success of the Tokyo Games.
The Japanese government is slated to receive 194 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from the company by the end of the year. The Pfizer vaccine is used in inoculation programs by Japanese municipalities, but some of them have been forced to suspend appointments due to vaccine shortages.
The Suga-Bourla meeting was joined by administrative reform minister Taro Kono, who is also in charge of the country’s vaccination campaign.
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