Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, said he “cannot be certain” that the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games will take place this summer as a state of coronavirus emergency has been declared in the city host.
Asked about the prospects for the Games to open on July 23, the Canadian told the BBC: “I can’t be sure because the elephant going on in the room would be the push of the virus.”
Organizers and IOC President Thomas Bach insisted the Olympics, which were postponed for a year due to the pandemic, would continue and agreed it would not be possible to delay them. a second time.
Tokyo, however, is at the center of a third wave of infections that has hit Japan in recent weeks, prompting Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to declare a month-long state of emergency in the capital and three prefectures. neighbors.
The measures, which are not legally enforceable, took effect on Friday, but experts warned they may have to stay in place beyond February to have any effect.
Tokyo reported a record 2,447 cases on Thursday, a 50% increase from the previous day – while the number of infections across Japan topped 7,500, also an all-time high.
Although Japan has fared better than many other countries – with 3,900 Covid-19 deaths in a country of 126 million – it is not expected to start immunizing frontline health workers until late February in sooner, with older people and other vulnerable people to follow in March.
The requirement to conduct national clinical trials and a history of public reluctance to vaccines means that authorities will have very little time to vaccinate a significant number of people by the opening of the Games, in a little more than six months.
Fears that visiting athletes, fans and officials could spark a new epidemic and the rising costs attributed to the delay have combined to turn public opinion against the Games. A recent poll by public broadcaster NHK found that 63% of Japanese people were in favor of another postponement or cancellation.
“I think it’s difficult… it’s impossible to host the Olympics,” said Tatsuhiko Akamasu, 75, who was visiting Tokyo on Friday from nearby Saitama. “There are only two and a half months until the torch relay. I don’t think we can get the virus under control during this time. “
Yuki Furusho, a 23-year-old college student, was equally skeptical. “I think the interaction between people will cause the coronavirus to spread, and it’s more likely that the virus can mutate if the number of infections increases. It’s a little scary.
The Tokyo 2020 organizing committee is not expected to reveal its plans for a “Covid-safe” Olympics until March, when 10,000 runners are expected to start a 121-day torch relay across the country.
When asked if he had any concerns about the viability of the Games given the global spread of the virus, the chairman of the organizing committee, Yoshirō Mori, replied “none at all”, according to the Sports newspaper. Hochi. “It will happen in July. Almost all of the Olympic preparations are in place.
In an interview with Sky News, Pound, the longest-serving IOC member, suggested that vaccinations should be a condition of competing in the Olympics, putting him at odds with Bach, who only said that athletes should be “encouraged. “to receive the vaccine.
Pound said: “Athletes are important role models, and by taking the vaccine they can send a powerful message that vaccination is not just a matter of personal health, but also of solidarity and consideration for well-being. others in their communities. “
The agencies contributed to the reporting