IOC chief Thomas Bach stokes fury in Japan for Ginza visit amid Covid-19 emergency

Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said on Tuesday that it was up to Mr Thomas Bach himself to decide "what constitutes a non-essential and non-urgent outing".
Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said on Tuesday that it was up to Mr Thomas Bach himself to decide "what constitutes a non-essential and non-urgent outing".PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has sparked an uproar in Japan for taking a stroll down the glitzy Ginza district this week.

This comes as the public has been told repeatedly by the government to "avoid non-essential and non-urgent outings".

Covid-19 infections have been surging across Japan, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, with a record 15,813 cases set on Wednesday (Aug 11), the eighth straight day the country has breached 10,000 infections. Nine prefectures broke their single-day tallies, including Osaka and Kyoto.

Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said on Tuesday that it was up to Mr Bach himself to decide "what constitutes a non-essential and non-urgent outing".

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato concurred, saying that the discretion is left to individuals, who should "make appropriate decisions based on the situation".

Reactions on social media ranged from bemusement to anger, while many questioned the double standards of a government that has been quick to point fingers at the public for venturing outdoors with crowded entertainment districts.

Some netizens quipped that the example shows that taking a leisurely stroll down Ginza could well be justified as an "essential and urgent" activity.

The government has also asked the public to refrain from travelling across prefecture borders and to avoid going back to their hometowns over the summer holidays and the Obon festival to pay respects at ancestral graves.

This advice has fallen on deaf ears, with airlines and train companies reporting a jump in ticket sales this year by as much as 50 per cent over the same month last year, when there was no state of emergency.

Nineteen of Japan's 47 prefectures are under some form of restrictions, with a state of emergency ongoing in six regions, including Tokyo, and the lighter 'quasi-emergency' in another 13 areas. This is slated to expire on Aug 31, though media reports said on Wednesday that the curbs will be extended  in all likelihood.

But the national government has struggled to keep people at home despite the Covid-19 threat, with experts saying that repeated states of emergency and the holding of the Olympics have blunted the sense of crisis.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government has disagreed with such views.