By Joe Apu
Tokyo’s Olympics chief Seiko Hashimoto said on Friday that Japan remains committed to holding a safe Games this summer, as a surge in COVID-19 cases prompted an expansion of contagion controls and with fresh calls for the Games to again be postponed or cancelled.
The government expanded quasi-emergency measures to 10 regions as a fourth wave of infections spread, casting more doubt on whether the Olympics can be held in Tokyo in fewer than 100 days.
“We’re not thinking of cancelling the Olympics,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said, speaking on behalf of the organising committee.
“We will continue to do what we can to implement a thorough safety regimen that will make people feel complete safety.”
The government added Aichi, Kanagawa, Saitama, and Chiba to six other prefectures already under contagion controls, including the cities of Tokyo and Osaka.
Japan’s top health experts have acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has entered a fourth wave.
Daily cases in Osaka reached a record 1,209 on Friday, driven by a virulent strain of the virus first identified in Britain. New infections in Tokyo were 729 on Thursday, the most since early February when most of the nation was under a state of emergency.
Almost two-thirds of Japanese said the Olympics should be cancelled or postponed, a Jiji news poll showed on Friday.
However, United States President Joe Biden declared his support for Japan staging the postponed Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games during a meeting with Japanese counterpart Yoshihide Suga.
Suga, the first head of state to visit the White House under the Biden administration, said his country was doing its “upmost” to prepare for the Games amid speculation that the event might not go ahead because of a rise in COVID-19 cases across the world.
“They are doing everything possible to contain infection and to realise safe and secure Games from scientific and objective perspectives,” Suga told a joint news conference.
“I expressed my determination to realise the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as a symbol of global unity this summer, and President Biden once again expressed his support.”
Biden “supports Prime Minister Suga’s efforts to hold a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer”, a joint statement after the meeting read.
“Both leaders expressed their pride in the US and Japanese athletes who have trained for these Games and will be competing in the best traditions of the Olympic spirit,” the statement added.