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Olympic flame withers as state bungling breaks Japanese spirit

Japanese public oppose holding the Tokyo Games as the country's Covid vaccination drive barely gets off the ground

Olympic flame withers as state bungling breaks Japanese spirit

A sign for the Tokyo Olympics is displayed on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building on May 31 after the government announced extending the state of emergency until a month before the Olympics. (Photo: AFP)

It doesn't take a national poll to know the sentiment of the Japanese towards the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. I have yet to meet anyone who is unconditionally in favor of it. For the skeptics, the latest survey revealed that 60-80 percent of people are convinced that the event, already postponed for one year, should be postponed once again or canceled altogether.

And to demonstrate that polls are not just a theoretical practice, an online petition to cancel the event was launched a few days ago and collected 350,000 signatures. The cherry on the signature’s cake came from the chief executive of Rakuten in a recent interview with CNN who said that holding the Olympics now would be tantamount to a suicide mission.

In fact, just 2.4 percent of the Japanese people have been vaccinated (against a global average of 9 percent), and therefore the Japanese are wondering why on earth they are taking the risk now after a year and a half of jishuku, or self-isolation at home, and with the concrete possibility that some exotic and pernicious variants could breach the archipelago. Furthermore, one in two Japanese do not even believe that athletes should be given priority vaccinations.

The criticism is based on an incomprehensible fact. Many countries began vaccinating months in advance of Japan, where government officials requested further clinical trials in addition to the tests Pfizer had already carried out.

In short, while dozens of nations took for granted the results of the tests released in November to start inoculating the categories at risk (and we all know Japan has one of the highest percentages of old people in the world), Japan's extra caution had the largely predictable effect of delaying everything by several months. The health authorities justify themselves by pointing to the serious shortage of qualified personnel and the need to guarantee popular support for the vaccine.

The skepticism of the Japanese towards injections is in fact decades old, dating back to the 1990s, when the government banned the practice of compulsory vaccinations in response to several deaths caused by side effects.

We all know what happens when governments in the past have tried to ban alcohol. Citizens find their own way to the booze

But no one doubts that, with a full year to prepare, Japan should have acted smarter, if not faster. The government has now decided to extend the state of emergency, which may differ from a full lockdown as we have seen in the West, but still means life will continue to be very much restricted until June 20.

For example, churches and other places of worship have not opened for more than a year now, and they will continue to be closed following government orders. But indoor cafes, crammed spaces with very low ceilings where people sit elbow to elbow or face to face, have been allowed to keep their customers all along.

The state of emergency means that people will have to restrict themselves to their homes and will be de-facto banned from going out, since shops and restaurants have to close at 8pm and no one is now allowed to even serve alcohol, which is tantamount to allowing people in movie theaters but prohibiting the selling of popcorn and soda. Everyone knows that's how those businesses make their money. And that’s why many businesses decided to stay closed altogether.

We all know what happens when governments in the past have tried to ban alcohol. Citizens find their own way to the booze. And that’s exactly what’s happening. So this plain incompetence on the part of the Japanese government has been able to achieve what not even the terrible oil crisis of the 1970s was able to: break the Japanese spirit.

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The weak souls have become weaker, with suicide spikes and mental health problems bearing especially on women. We all learned that seeing and meeting friends is not a frivolous activity but is complementary to maintaining a healthy and stable mind.

And those who do have the audacity to go out against the government's advice have started littering the streets, drinking, eating, leaving cans and bottles everywhere. 

And now we learn that in Osaka a fifth-grader running with a mask in the school grounds collapsed and died. Is this the government’s fault? Of course not, but had Japan already vaccinated most of its citizens, there would have been no need to wear a mask outside. And with the summer heat approaching, this type of accident won't be uncommon.

Meanwhile, many Japanese have vented their anger on social media as well as in the streets to protest, arguing the obvious: stop the Olympics. 

Consider this. Under a state of emergency, if I were to leave this country for a few days, I would not even be allowed back even though I hold a residence card and pay my taxes. On the other hand, the country is preparing to give special immunity status to tens of thousands of athletes, coaches and officials from around the world. And all this while its medical facilities are barely able to take care of the so far “contained” number of Covid patients.

But as some experts have pointed out, canceling the event could cost up to US$17 billion. For sure, the government has decided which is the lesser of the two evils.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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