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Tokyo gets ready for Olympics amid pandemic, protests

Japanese people are coming round to the idea of holding the world's biggest sports event during a pandemic

UCA News reporter, Tokyo

UCA News reporter, Tokyo

Published: June 09, 2021 10:10 AM GMT

Updated: June 09, 2021 12:44 PM GMT

Tokyo gets ready for Olympics amid pandemic, protests

Models present the medals, podium and music to be used for the medal ceremonies at the Tokyo Olympic Games during an event at Ariake Arena in Tokyo on June 3. (Photo: AFP)

Despite Covid-19 still raging, Japan is getting ready to host the Tokyo Olympics next month with opinion polls showing public opposition to the global sports extravaganza has dropped significantly in recent weeks.

About 50 percent of respondents surveyed by conservative daily Yomiuri favored holding the event in July, a significant rise from 39 percent in a poll in early May. About 48 percent of respondents suggested the event should be canceled, a drop from 59 percent in May.

Earlier, several national polls showed that most people opposed holding the games and favored a cancellation.

Japan’s Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa told parliament on June 8 that all efforts are underway to ensure safety in the sports venues and athletes’ village.

"We would like to consider thoroughly, with other officials concerned, the practical issues regarding what could be done to realize a safe and secure games," she said.

The Olympics were originally due to be held from July 24 to Aug. 9, 2020, only to be rescheduled for July 23 to Aug. 9, 2021, due to the coronavirus pandemic. It was the first time in history that the Olympics had been postponed and rescheduled.

Asia’s economic powerhouse has faced criticism for a sluggish vaccination drive

Due to the pandemic, organizers have banned foreign spectators from attending the world’s biggest sporting event.

Japan has recorded 766,000 coronavirus infections including some 56,000 active cases and over 13,705 deaths. Major metropolitan areas including Tokyo and Osaka have been struggling to control the spread of the virus.

On June 8, Tokyo registered 369 new cases, up from 235 the day before. Japan logged 1,278 new infections and 75 deaths on June 7, according to data from health authorities.

A state of emergency for Tokyo, Osaka and eight prefectures and prefecture-level cities — Hokkaido, Aichi, Kyoto, Hyogo, Okayama, Hiroshima, Fukuoka and Okinawa — has been imposed until June 20 to curb the rising number of cases and deaths in recent weeks.  Altogether the cities account for half of Japan’s economy and 40 percent of its population of 126 million, reported Kyodo News.

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Asia’s economic powerhouse has faced criticism for a sluggish vaccination drive, with only about 5 percent of the population getting jabs so far.

However, in recent weeks authorities have stepped up a nationwide mass inoculation by opening hundreds of vaccination centers and deploying thousands of medical professionals to administer jabs.

Until May, there were strong calls including street protests for cancellation of the Olympics.

On May 14, the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, a leading group of Japanese doctors, sent a letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga asking him to cancel the Olympics.

The doctors said the hospitals in the host city were overwhelmed with patients and they “have their hands full and have almost no spare capacity.”

By the end of May, an opinion poll by a leading newspaper and official partner of the Tokyo Olympics, Asahi Shimbun, found 43 percent of people surveyed wanted the event to be canceled and 40 percent were in favor of a further postponement.

The paper published an editorial on May 26 demanding cancellation of the event, saying it poses threats to public health and would put further pressure on Japan’s health services as it struggled to tackle the latest wave of the pandemic.

The government has attempted to showcase the Olympics as a symbolic sign that the world has defeated the coronavirus

An online petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for cancellation of the Olympics was sent to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and others.

By June 3, about 10,000 out of 80,000 volunteers who had registered to help at athletics events had pulled out.

Earlier, Hiroshi Nishiura, a professor at Kyoto University and adviser to the government’s pandemic response, urged the authorities to postpone the Olympics for another year to give more time to vaccinate the public.

Despite the drawbacks and warnings, the Japanese government and IOC officials said the event would go ahead.

Dick Pound, an IOC member, told CNN that cancellation is “essentially off the table” and all indications suggest a "bubble" around those participating in Tokyo can be maintained to ensure safety amid the pandemic.

"…. the bubble can be created and maintained and daily tests, or whatever the frequency of tests will be, will identify any indications that there may be some people having the virus that are there. They will be put into isolation right away," Pound was quoted as saying.

The government has attempted to showcase the Olympics as a symbolic sign that the world has defeated the coronavirus.

It also announced that all 70,000 volunteers at the Olympics will be vaccinated, while thousands of media workers will be tracked by a global positioning system after undergoing mandatory quarantine on entering Japan.

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