The list of calls to cancel the Tokyo Olympics continues to grow within a Japan struggling to contain its new wave of covid, less than two months after the inauguration. The last request, this Wednesday, has been especially significant. It comes from one of its official sponsors, the second most read newspaper in the country, the Asahi Shimbun, which in an editorial has described the competition as a “health threat.”
The newspaper, of a progressive line and one of the media that sponsors the Games, calls on the Japanese Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, to carry out a “calm and objective assessment of the situation and make the decision to cancel these Olympics.” He also criticizes the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its insistence on holding the event no matter what and regardless of the will of the majority of the Japanese population. The vice president of the institution, John Coates, declared last week that “absolutely yes” the competition would be held, even if Tokyo was in a state of health emergency.
Up to 83% of Japanese residents, according to polls, oppose the Games taking place this summer, preferring either outright cancellation or postponed to next year. In the latter case, it would be the second extension, after the covid already forced to postpone the celebration planned last year. The ordinary public has been joined by doctors, analysts and businessmen. The CEO of e-commerce giant Rakuten has told CNN that going ahead would be a “suicide mission.” This Sunday it was the charismatic leader of the technology investor Softbank, Masayoshi Son, who pointed out on Twitter that if canceling the tournament could mean economic losses, celebrating it “can make us lose something much worse.”
Those who oppose the celebration are feared that the arrival of nearly 80,000 athletes, delegates and journalists, among others, from all over the world, could introduce a new wave, or new variants, of coronavirus, and turn the competition into a super contagion event.
Japan is seeing its fight against the coronavirus complicate. Ten prefectures are under a state of health emergency. Although nine of them should see it lifted next Monday, Osaka – the second city in the country – has indicated that it is preparing to request an extension until June 20. Others could follow suit.
The country, out of a population of 125 million, has accumulated a relatively low number of covid infections: 726,000 people since the beginning of the pandemic, of which 12,500 have died. But the new daily cases do not finish to begin to fall significantly, and the vaccination campaign has started very slowly. Doctors warn that holding the Games could divert necessary medical resources.
A report from the Nomura Institute was added to the considerations against this Wednesday. The document calculates that if the competition unleashed a new wave of infections and it was necessary to declare a new state of health emergency as a result, “the economic losses would be much higher than those of canceling” the Games. According to their figures, abandoning the celebration would cost the equivalent of about 16,600 million euros, or 0.3% of Japan’s GDP in 2020. But the first state of emergency, declared in the spring of last year, meant losses three times greater, of about 50,000 million euros.
So far, the Japanese government insists that it can guarantee the development of the Games in complete safety, as it has adopted precautionary measures that include the prohibition of public from abroad. The president of the organizing committee, Seiko Hashimoto, acknowledged this Wednesday the “strong opposition” from the public, but insisted on the institutional message: “Preparations are moving forward to have a safe Games.”