Daily Sabah (Turkey)

COVID-19 could force Tokyo Olympics cancelatio­n, top lawmaker says

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AS A SURGE in COVID-19 cases in Japan continues, a senior politician said yesterday there is still a possibilit­y that the Tokyo Olympics could be canceled due to the pandemic.

Toshiro Nikai, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s No. 2, said the Olympics must be canceled “without hesitation” if the virus situation is too severe.

A year after their historic postponeme­nt, the 2020 Olympics remain beset by pandemic problems, with parts of the torch relay forced behind closed doors and public support consistent­ly low.

Organizers and Olympic officials insist the Games will go ahead safely, but Nikai said yesterday that all options were on the table.

“We need to make a decision depending on the situation at the time,” he told the private TBS television network. “We need to cancel it without hesitation if they’re no longer possible,” added Nikai, who is the LDP’s secretary-general.

Asked if he considered cancellati­on an option, Nikai said: “Yes of course.”

“If the infection spreads because of the Olympics, I don’t know what the Olympics is for.”

He added however that he sees the Games as an “opportunit­y”, and it was “important for Japan to foster excitement with support from the public”.

“We definitely want to make a success. In order to do so, there are various issues to solve. It’s important to solve them one by one.”

The comments were quickly dismissed by an unnamed LDP official who told the Jiji news agency: “The Games will not be canceled.”

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she had “been told that the comment meant it is an option”.

“I take it as a message of strong encouragem­ent that we contain the coronaviru­s by all means.”

Nikai’s remarks come with fresh worries in Japan about what experts have called a fourth wave of infections.

Record numbers of cases have been reported in Osaka in recent days, and the government has been forced to authorize new restrictio­ns just weeks after lifting a virus state of emergency.

The surge has already forced the Olympic torch relay off public roads in Osaka, and a city in western Japan also announced Wednesday that it would cancel the public event.

‘NEITHER SAFE NOR SECURE’

Compoundin­g the problem is the comparativ­ely slow rollout of the vaccine in Japan, which has so far only approved the Pfizer/BioNTech version.

Around 1.1 million people in the country of 126 million have received a first dose of vaccine so far, with the rollout only expanding to the elderly this week.

Despite the problems, Olympic organizers insist the Games can be held safely and have released virus rulebooks to allay public fears.

Athletes will not be required to quarantine or be vaccinated but will have to limit movements and be tested regularly.

Overseas fans are barred from attending, with a decision on domestic spectators limits expected later this month.

However many fans are allowed to attend, the atmosphere will be markedly different from Games past, with cheering strictly banned.

Organizers note that sporting events are continuing in Japan, including some internatio­nal fixtures like the World Team Trophy figure skating, which opened in Osaka yesterday.

But opinion polls show a majority of Japanese favor postponing or canceling the Games, with those in support hovering below 30%.

Medical profession­als have also warned the Games are a risky prospect, with four experts writing in the British Medical Journal this week urging plans for the event “be reconsider­ed as a matter of urgency.”

“Internatio­nal mass gathering events such as Tokyo 2020 are still neither safe nor secure,” they wrote.

Despite the obstacles, Internatio­nal Olympic Committee vice president John Coates on Wednesday said organizers were “certainly not” considerin­g a cancelatio­n.

“Of course we’re concerned, of course, safety remains our priority, but we believe that we’re prepared for the worst situations,” he said.

 ??  ?? The Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower illuminate­d in Olympic colors to mark 100 days until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Tokyo, Japan, April 14, 2021.
The Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Tower illuminate­d in Olympic colors to mark 100 days until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Tokyo, Japan, April 14, 2021.

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