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Olympics will go ahead, Japan's PM tells parliament

January 18, 2021

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said holding the delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer would be a sign of "victory against the coronavirus." Most Japanese people either think they will not or should not go ahead.

Olympic rings in Tokyo
The Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee have said the Games are to go ahead amid a strict COVID hygiene and safety rulesImage: picture alliance/dpa/kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga tried to reassure lawmakers on Monday, saying that Japan would hold the already-postponed Olympics this summer and pledging to get the coronavirus outbreak in the country under control.

Suga said hosting the Olympics would be "a proof of human victory against the coronavirus."

"We will have full anti-infection measures in place and proceed with preparation with a determination to achieve the Games that can deliver hope and courage throughout the world," he said.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach recently voiced a similar hope, saying he wanted the Tokyo Olympics to be a "light at the end of the tunnel" in the fight against the pandemic.

Majority of Japanese doubt the Games will go ahead

Japan's people do not currently seem to share Suga and Bach's optimism. Local media polls show about 80% of the Japanese public think the Olympics either will not or should not happen.

Japanese newspaper Yomiuri reported on Monday that the International Olympic Committee expects just 6,000 athletes at the opening ceremony, down from an initial number of around 11,000 from 200 countries.

Athletes will not be permitted to arrive at the Olympic Village more than five days before they compete and will be required to leave within two days of completion of their events, the paper said

Recent uptick putting Suga under strain

Facing increased criticism amid a recent spike in cases and new restrictions in Tokyo, Suga said his government would amend laws to make it possible to impose fines against those breaking COVID rules.

"In order to restore sense of safety, I will get the coronavirus pandemic, which has raged worldwide and is now severely affecting Japan, under control as soon as possible," Suga said in a speech during the opening of a new Parliament session.

"I will stand at the front line of the battle while I get the people's cooperation," he added.

With more than 330,000 cases and 4,500 COVID-related deaths,  Japan has been less severely affected by the disease than many other developed countries. But the recent resurgence prompted it to shut down its borders to non-resident foreigners and declare a state of emergency in the capital Tokyo and other major cities.

Suga and his government have been criticized as being too slow in their handling of the virus, causing approval ratings for his govrernment to suffer recently. 

mvb/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa)