Despite rise in coronavirus cases, IOC confident Games will carry on
“I think everybody should take into consideration and slowly give more room to confidence and hope and then start to leave the doubts a little bit behind,” Bach said.
Tokyo and two other regions could face tightened restrictions, according to Japanese media reports, amid a surge of new cases and concerns about overwhelming health services. On Wednesday, Tokyo saw its highest new caseload since Jan. 29 — 843 coronavirus infections, which is 252 more than the same day a week earlier. While the numbers are still a fraction of what the United States and many European countries are experiencing, many of the new cases involve highly infectious variant strains of the virus.
The emergency declaration reportedly would run through at least May 9 and would encompass Japan’s annual “Golden Week” holiday period.
“This is absolutely in line with the overall policy of the government but is not related to the Olympic Games,” Bach said. “It is related to the Golden Week. and therefor we are looking forward to the continuation of this consultation with the organizing committee.”
The Olympics, already postponed a full year because of the pandemic, are scheduled to begin in three months, and Tokyo officials are still weighing several key decisions. They already have barred foreign visitors from attending the Olympics, and at a news conference Wednesday in Tokyo, organizers said they might not decide until June whether they would allow spectators at all. A new set of safety protocols for athletes and other stakeholders is expected to be announced next week, and Bach said he is buoyed by the success of other sporting events that have been staged in recent months.
“We have seen that this works. There have been 340 world championships and world cups being organized with the participation of far more than 40,000 athletes. And none of these events has been a virus-spreader,” Bach said. “They did not even have the benefit of the vaccine. There in Tokyo, we will have on top of this the benefit of the vaccine.”
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said this week he does not expect a new state of emergency declaration to affect Tokyo’s ability to stage the world’s largest sporting event.
Speaking to reporters at the prime minister’s office Tuesday, Suga answered a question about whether a new state of emergency would affect the Olympics by saying: “I don’t think it will [have an effect] on the Olympics. As a government, we intend to give our all to ensure a safe and secure Games.”
Last week, a key member of Japan’s ruling party caused a stir by publicly airing some reservations, saying, “There are a lot of issues that need to be resolved.” Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai said, “If it seems impossible, it needs to be stopped.”
Tokyo Olympic officials went immediately into damage control, and the next day, Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, acknowledged “a variety of concerns” but said organizers “are not thinking about canceling the Games.”
Public sentiment in Japan for the Olympics has been lacking throughout the pandemic, and the surge in cases and slow vaccine rollout has only weakened support. The Asahi Shimbun, one of the country’s oldest and largest national newspapers, featured a front-page column this week with the headline, “Time to consider cutting our losses, canceling Tokyo Olympics.”
A Kyodo News poll this month found 39 percent of the people in Japan believe the Games should be canceled and an additional 33 percent say the Olympics should be rescheduled. By comparison, 25 percent say they should be held as scheduled.
Simon Denyer in Tokyo contributed to this report.