Olympics are now just over two months away, and calls to abandon the Games in the face of the pandemic are getting louder by the day. So why isn’t Japan talking about canceling the Games? The answer, it turns out, is not that simple.
The situation in Japan is not looking great.
The coronavirus emergency has extended in the capital Tokyo and three other major prefectures as the number of cases continues to increase.
Still, there is no word about canceling the Games, despite the fact that both health experts and public opinion have piled against them.
Current polls in Japan show that nearly 70% of the population does not want the Olympics to take place, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remains firm that the spectacle will take place.
Japan has long maintained that there was no doubt that the Olympics, which should have taken place last summer, are being held and will be safe.
But earlier this week, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appeared to bow to the pressure of public opinion for the first time, saying the government would “not put the Olympics first” – adding that the decision ultimately came to the IOC would lie.
Tokyo Olympics could still be canceled, top Japanese official says
With just a few months to go before the Tokyo Olympics begin, one of Japan’s top officials suggested the games could be canceled or played without fans.
“If it seems impossible to proceed with the games, they should be canceled permanently,” Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said Thursday.
The country has reportedly been lagging behind in rolling out vaccinations compared to other big wealthy countries. The delay was due to the fact that additional clinical trials were needed for the Pfizer vaccine to support the country’s historically low vaccine confidence, according to the Associated Press.
With a population of 126 million, the country began vaccinating people 65 and older for COVID-19 Monday, according to Reuters. There are an estimated 36 million people in this age group, the outlet reported.
In comparison, the US started vaccinating seniors of the same age group in January.
On Thursday, the country had only vaccinated 1.8 million people. According to Reuters, less than 0.7% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Earlier this month, rumors were met with outrage when it was reported that Japanese Olympic athletes would be given priority over a vaccine shot over civilians, JapanToday reported. Cabinet secretary Katsunobu Kato denied the allegations at a press conference on April 8.
Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Tokyo Olympics, echoed Kato’s sentiment when asked about vaccinating athletes.
“As the government has said, we haven’t had such a discussion so far [about prioritizing athletes for vaccination],” Hashimoto said at a press conference on April 9.
Taro Kono, the minister responsible for vaccine distribution, has since made it clear that the Tokyo Olympics played no part in the government’s vaccination efforts.
“The Olympics are not on our radar,” he said on April 9.
The ceremonial relay of the Olympic torch to Tokyo began on March 25. The route was planned to avoid areas with high COVID-19 infection rates.
A final decision on the capacity of the games is expected in April, according to Hashimoto.
“A safe and secure Tokyo Games is our top priority,” he said. “We are doing  our best, and we would like to continue our efforts.”