Tokyo vows utmost virus steps on 100-day Olympic milestone

15-Apr-2021 Intellasia | Kyodo News | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike on Wednesday pledged to suppress the spread of the coronavirus in the Japanese capital to ensure a safe Olympics as it quietly marked 100 days to go until the global sporting event.

“I sincerely look forward to seeing all athletes from Japan and abroad, who have been training very hard, staging a wonderful games by holding the event with everyone in 100 days from now,” Koike said at a low-key ceremony at the metropolitan government building.

Her comments came as Tokyo experiences a renewed surge in coronavirus infections, with many questions still remaining over how the Olympics can open on July 23 amid the global health crisis.

Japanese organisers and the International Olympic Committee have vowed to prioritise safety at the Tokyo Games, which were postponed last year. But the public remains skeptical about staging the roughly two-week event with the pandemic seemingly far from over and most people in Japan not yet vaccinated.

The Japanese government was forced last week to designate the capital as requiring stronger COVID-19 measures, with the move coming less than a month after a state of emergency over the virus was lifted.

Tokyo on Wednesday confirmed another 591 infections, the highest number since the end of the second emergency on March 21.

Koike said that the current quasi-state of emergency until May 11 will be a “crucial period” to “win the battle against the coronavirus” before hosting the games.

John Coates, who chairs the IOC’s coordination commission that monitors preparations for the Olympics, expressed confidence they will go ahead this summer.

“I have no hesitation in saying that the games will take place and they’ll be the safest games possible,” he said in video footage released Tuesday by the IOC. “All of the countermeasures have been put in place to deal with COVID to ensure that the public, the athletes and all of the other participants are safe.”

Two low-key ceremonies were held on Wednesday morning to celebrate the milestone, but neither was advertised to the public beforehand to prevent people from gathering.

Statues of the two Tokyo Games mascots were unveiled at the metropolitan government building, while an Olympic rings monument was erected on the summit of Mt. Takao, a popular hiking destination on the outskirts of the capital, in foggy weather.

“Due to the current circumstances, I understand there are many opinions about the Olympics,” said Toshiaki Endo, a vice president of the organising committee. “Therefore, I am determined that we must hold a safe and secure games.”

The organisers have been struggling to turn public opinion in Japan back in favour of the Olympics. A Kyodo News survey released Monday showed only 24.5 percent believe the games should go ahead this summer.

The nationwide torch relay that started March 25 has lacked a festive atmosphere and indicates how difficult it is to organise a major event during the global health crisis.

The two-day leg in Osaka Prefecture through Wednesday was rerouted off public roads following record numbers of COVID-19 cases, with torchbearers running in an empty park instead.

The Olympics will feature over 10,000 athletes from around the world. But to prevent the spread of the virus, the event is set to look completely different from a typical Summer Games.

Due to fears that the Olympics could become a global super-spreader event, spectators from overseas will not be allowed to attend, and competitions are expected to be held in front of a limited number of people living in Japan.

Meanwhile, athletes will be tested for the virus regularly during their stay in Japan, while they will only be allowed to travel to their venues and other limited locations using designated vehicles, unless given special permission.

The Olympics, previously held in the Japanese capital in 1964, were postponed in March last year because of the pandemic. A record 33 sports made up of 339 events will be staged during the games that close on August 8.

Japan has logged over 513,000 infections and about 9,500 deaths due to the virus, both numbers smaller than most major economies. But Tokyo’s total confirmed cases of more than 127,000 are by far the highest among regions in the country.

The organising committee has entered the final phase of preparations. This month, the first test event was held since the postponement to review logistical operations. It will also release the second version of its “playbook,” a set of COVID-19 guidelines, for athletes, officials and stakeholders involved with the games.

The five organising bodies of the games, including the IOC and the Tokyo metropolitan government, plan to convene a meeting by the end of April to set a direction on the issue of how many people will be allowed to enter venues.

The Olympics will be followed by the Paralympics from August 24 to September 5.


Category: Japan

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