Olympics: Japanese PM Suga vows to press ahead with Tokyo Games despite virus surge

Around 11,000 athletes from 200 countries had initially been expected at the opening ceremony. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday (Jan 18) vowed to forge ahead with preparations to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer, in the face of growing public opposition as the country battles a surge in coronavirus infections.

He faces heightened scrutiny after Taro Kono, his administrative and reform minister, told Reuters last week the Games may not go ahead as planned, becoming the first Cabinet member to voice doubt over their staging.

Mr Kono's comments added fuel to the fire after recent media polls showed close to 80 per cent of Japanese believe the Olympics, already postponed by a year because of the pandemic, should be delayed again or cancelled entirely.

"We will press ahead with preparations, with determination of building watertight anti-infection measures and holding an event that can bring hope and courage to the world," Mr Suga said in a policy speech at the start of a regular parliament session.

Japan has been less severely hit by the pandemic than many other advanced economies, but the recent surge in cases spurred it to close its borders to non-resident foreigners and declare a state of emergency in Tokyo and major cities.

Mr Suga's support ratings have tumbled as critics have described the government's handling of the pandemic as too slow and inconsistent.

Monday's comments echo a pledge by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach that the Tokyo Olympics will be a "light at the end of the tunnel" in the global pandemic fight.

However, organisers face no shortage of logistical headaches, with tough decisions looming over how to welcome spectators and athletes while safeguarding against the virus.

The IOC plans to scale back the opening ceremony because athletes will not be allowed to arrive at the Olympic Village, which can accommodate 18,000 people, more than five days before they compete. They must also depart within two days of their event finishing, the paper reported citing unidentified sources.

Around 11,000 athletes from 200 countries had initially been expected at the opening ceremony, the Yomiuri said.

"We believe it is necessary to reconsider the number of participants at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and how they will enter the stadium," the Tokyo 2020 organising committee said in an e-mail.

This step would ensure the safety and security of the athletes and simplify operations, it said, while adding that a specific approach had not yet been decided in its talks with the IOC and other groups.

Any cancellation, or scaled-back event could impose a financial burden on the IOC because it relies on income from selling television rights for the quadrennial sporting event.

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