20210507 Opposition to Olympics grows as Japan struggles with pandemic

Tokyo residents are urged not to go to drink or karaoke under the coronavirus state of emergency, while Japan vows to hold the Tokyo Olympics by letting medical workers volunteer during the event. Not surprisingly, the opposition to the Games has grown.

Tokyo (dpa) – On a recent windy evening, a civic group opposing the Tokyo Olympics staged a protest rally in front of a building that houses the Olympic organizing committee, raising placards that read “No Olympics.”

They criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and local organizers for pressing ahead with plans to hold the postponed Tokyo Games while Japan has failed to contain coronavirus infections, putting strain on medical professionals.

The group argued their voices were unheard by the organizers while they were instead surrounded by a large presence of police during the rally.

The organizers “have ignored citizens’ opposition,” Akira Hayama, a university student and one of the participants, said.

“They are forcing through the Olympics while destroying the nation’s democracy,” she stressed.

Experts warned of the risk of the Games becoming a super-spreader event especially when the roll-out of coronavirus vaccines has been extremely slow in Japan.

A government report showed that only 0.9 per cent of the nation’s 125 million population has been fully vaccinated as of Thursday, just two and a half months before the opening of the Olympics on July 23.

The Japanese government conceded more contagious variants of the coronavirus has contributed to a resurgence of new cases.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga decided on Friday to extend the state of emergency in Tokyo and three western prefectures until the end of May as they have struggled to curb new infections.

Last month, Suga declared the state of emergency in the four prefectures from April 25 to May 11, requesting bars and restaurants refrain from serving alcohol and offering a karaoke service.

Despite the pandemic, Suga and Olympic organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto still vowed to hold the Games in a “safe and secure” manner.

However, during the torch relay in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima in late April, six local officials were infected with the coronavirus though all of them were wearing masks.

Four experts said in the British Medical Journal last month that international mass gathering events such as the Tokyo Games are “still neither safe nor secure.”

“Plans to hold the Olympic and Paralympic games this summer must be reconsidered as a matter of urgency,” the experts said.

The organizers decided in March to ban overseas fans from attending the Games and they will make a decision in June on how many spectators will be allowed to enter venues.

“Is the event still called Olympics even without overseas spectators?” asked Masao Ezawa, a longtime activist in the central city of Nagano.

Holding the Olympics in the middle of the pandemic is “the height of stupidity” as hospitals in Japan have been overwhelmed by another wave of infections, said Ezawa, who has opposed Olympics since the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano.

“More people have struggled to make ends meet due to the economic fallout of the pandemic and more young people died by suicide,” Ezawa explained.

The number of suicides among those in their 20s jumped 19 per cent from a year earlier to 2,521 in 2020, the largest increase among age groups, while a total number of suicides was up 4.5 per cent to 21,081, according to the National Police Agency.

“Lives and livelihoods are more important than the Olympics,” he said emphatically.

A survey conducted in April by Kyodo News showed 72 per cent of those polled want the Olympics cancelled or rescheduled.

The opposition to the Games has gathered steam especially as hospitals have been reportedly strained by the surge in coronavirus cases in many parts of the country.

Japan’s medical community got angry last week when the organizers asked 500 nurses to volunteer during the Olympics.

Hashimoto has said around 10,000 medical staff will be needed during the Olympics.

An online petition at Change.org urging the cancellation of the Olympics has collected more than 210,000 signatures since its launch on Wednesday.

“With the circumstances that we are under, it is certainly unlikely that the Tokyo Olympics could be held safely. If the games are pursued, the Olympics would be denying their very own purpose of ‘celebrating peace,’” said the petition launched by Kenji Utsunomiya, who once led the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

Speaking at a news conference last week, Hashimoto reiterated that they “have already decided to stage the Games.”

“They are eager to hold the Olympics. They are acting as if children are clinging to a toy,” Ezawa said.