WORLD / ASIA-PACIFIC
Amid opposition, Japan PM says has 'never put Olympics first'
Japan PM says has ‘never put Olympics first’ amid public opinion poll
Published: May 10, 2021 07:38 PM
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that he has never "put the Olympics first," the same day an opinion poll showed nearly 60 percent of people in Japan want the Olympics canceled less than three months before they begin.

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (C) answers a question during a lower house budget committee session at parliament in Tokyo on May 11, 2021. Photo: VCG

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga (center) answers a question during a lower house budget committee session at parliament in Tokyo on May 11. Photo: VCG

Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo until the end of May and is struggling to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases, raising further questions about whether the Games should go on. Its vaccination rate is the lowest among wealthy nations. 

International Olympic officials, Tokyo planners and Suga himself have insisted the Games will go on in "a safe and secure" way.

Foreign spectators have been barred and planners issued an elaborate playbook of rules in April aimed at preventing coronavirus infections. But a public opinion survey, conducted from Friday to Sunday by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, showed 59 percent wanted the Games canceled as opposed to 39 percent who said they should be held. "Postponement" was not offered as an option.

Another poll conducted on the weekend by TBS News found that 65 percent wanted the Games canceled or postponed again, with 37 percent voting to scrap the event altogether and 28 percent calling for another delay. 

More than 300,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the Games in roughly five days since it was launched. Asked in a parliamentary committee meeting whether the Games will continue even if COVID-19 infections spike, Suga replied: "I've never put [the] Olympics first."

"My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus," he added.

He repeated that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the final say on the fate of the Games and that the government's role is to take steps so they can be held safely. Several test events with foreign athletes have been successfully held, most recently on Sunday.

Arrangements are being made for IOC head Thomas Bach, who had been widely expected to visit Japan in mid-May, to visit in June, with the lifting of the state of emergency a prerequisite, media reports said.
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