TOKYO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga lamented on Wednesday drawing so much criticism for Japan’s hosting of the Olympics with the COVID-19 crisis unabated, while a newspaper reported that local spectators may be allowed to attend.
Many Japanese and medical experts oppose staging the 2020 Games as planned from July 23, after already being postponed a year, as their nation suffers a fourth infection wave.
Suga, who is expected to call a snap election after the event, has staked his political reputation on going ahead with the Olympics which he has said will bring joy to the world and be safely conducted within a “bubble”.
His sensitivity to criticism emerged in parliament when an opposition lawmaker noted Suga was attracting criticism over the Olympics rather than host city governor, Yuriko Koike.
“I’m very glad you said what I want to say,” he replied.
“Even though I (tried to make) such remarks, parliament’s discussions conclude that all the responsibilities should be taken by the prime minister … I am not trying to run away from (responsibilities), but I feel it is regrettable that this is the direction of the debate in parliament.”
Suga’s ratings have fallen from 62% when he took office last year to 35% now, according to polls for broadcaster NHK.
Koike, who has not taken so much heat over the Olympics, was not immediately available for comment.
With foreign spectators already prohibited from the Olympics, the Asahi newspaper said organisers were optimistic about allowing Japanese into venues given that COVID-19 vaccines were being rolled out and case numbers declining.
The prime minister’s office declined to comment.
GPS TRACKING OF VISITORS
Japan has been spared the widespread infections seen elsewhere, but has recorded more than 760,000 cases and more than 13,600 deaths. Tokyo and some other regions are under a state of emergency set to be lifted on June 20.
About 11% of Japanese have had at least one vaccine dose – still slow compared with other rich nations.
To try and reassure the public, Tokyo 2020 organisers have said visiting athletes and media crews will be monitored via GPS for the first 14 days of their stay to ensure they do not stray from itineraries.
However, the level of surveillance drew criticism, while some social media users also said the measure could be rendered ineffective if people simply leave their smartphones at hotels
“Monitoring foreigners via GPS for the sake of holding the Olympics safely could lead to restriction of freedom and human rights,” said Mitsuru Fukuda, professor at the College of Risk Management at Nihon University.
Seeking to give reassurance, Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said GPS records could be used to retroactively prove a person’s whereabouts should problems occur.
“We’re not going to be tracking every single movement,” he told a news conference.
“I want to trust they will follow the rules first.”
In a note of enthusiasm, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said athletes she had met were “so excited” about the Game despite the unprecedentedly difficult conditions.
Yet on the same day, the Australian baseball team pulled out of the final qualifying tournament for the Games due to “insurmountable” challenges.
Popular Japanese singer Yuzo Kayama was the latest celebrity withdrawing from the Olympics torch relay due to anxiety over the global crisis, Kyodo news reported.
(Additional reporting by Junko Fujita and Rikako Maruyama; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Cawthorne)