Two-thirds of Japanese doubt Olympics amid Covid-19 pandemic can be safe: Poll

Any major outbreak in the village could wreak havoc on competitions because those either infected or isolating would not be able to compete.
Any major outbreak in the village could wreak havoc on competitions because those either infected or isolating would not be able to compete.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Two-thirds of people in Japan do not believe 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 per cent of respondents expressed doubt about the ability of Olympic organisers to control coronavirus infections, with 55 per cent 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 Japan's 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 will run from July 23 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 to stay during the Games. Since July 2, Tokyo 2020 organisers have reported 58 positive cases among athletes, officials and journalists.

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 organisers have contingency plans to deal with infections among athletes.

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 greeting. So they may also have a risk to get infected in their own countries," said Professor Koji Wada at Tokyo's International University of Health and Welfare and an adviser on the government's 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 per cent of the overall population has so far received one.

As the start of the Olympics neared, Tokyo on Monday imposed road traffic restrictions, designating reserved lanes for Olympic officials, athletes and journalists travelling between sites.

The transport authorities also hiked toll charges by 1,000 yen (S$12.35) for private vehicles using the network of elevated expressways that snake through the city in a bid to reduce traffic during the Games.