TOKYO, Japan (AFP) – Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday insisted that the new Games postponed by a coronavirus will still go ahead despite Japan declaring a state of emergency less than 200 days before the opening ceremony.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday announced the month-long measure covering Tokyo’s largest area, taking effect from yesterday, as the country battles a surge in infections.
Tokyo 2020 bosses have already said that another postponement of the Games – due to start on July 23 – is out of the question.
And they insisted yesterday that the crisis would not derail plans.
“This urgent statement offers an opportunity to get the COVID-19 situation under control and for Tokyo 2020 to plan for a safe Games this summer, and we will proceed with the necessary preparations accordingly,” he said organizers in a statement.
Suga said on Thursday that Japan is committed to hosting a “safe” Olympics, and believes the public mood will change when the country begins vaccinations, which are currently slated for next month.
But International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound told the BBC he could not “be certain” that the Games would go ahead, because “the persistent elephant in the room would be the surges of the virus”.
Japan’s state of emergency is less stringent than the harsh locks seen elsewhere or even the country’s first virus crisis last spring.
It mainly targets restaurants and bars, which are asked to stop serving alcohol by 19:00 hours and close an hour later.
Vaccine Priority for Games?
But the crisis could harden public opinion against the Games, with a majority opposing their capture this year even before the third wave gets worse.
Tokyo 2 recorded 392 new infections yesterday, slightly down from the previous record of 2 447 recorded a day earlier. Yet, the incidence of Japan remains relatively small, with just over 3 850 deaths overall.
Japan has not yet approved a coronavirus vaccine, with Suga saying he hopes the first injections can start in late February. Health workers and the elderly are expected to be first in line.
Pound said this week that it should be a high priority for athletes to get the vaccine to ensure the Games can go ahead.
“It’s a decision for every country to make,” the Canadian told Sky Sports on Wednesday. “And people will say they are jumping the queue, but I think that’s the most realistic way to move it forward.”
The head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach said last year that the body would “make great efforts” to ensure as many participants and spectators as possible were vaccinated before the Games.
But organizers say they also don’t rely on vaccines to move ahead with the Games, and in December unveiled antiviral measures that they say will allow the event to happen even if the pandemic doesn’t has been controlled.
The countermeasures and delays have helped put the Tokyo Olympics on track to become one of the most expensive Summer Games in history, with a final budget of 1.64 trillion yen (US $ 15.8 billion) finally revealed December.
The additional costs – up 294 billion yen (US $ 2.8 billion) from figures released a year ago – come despite organizers trying to scale back elements of the Games in a bid to save money.