The Tokyo Olympics is set to open in three days, but the head of the organizing committee on Tuesday ruled out cancellation at the last minute if the number of COVID-19 cases among athletes continued to rise.
Toshiro Muto told a news conference that he is looking at infection numbers, with 71 coronavirus cases already reported since July 1, for those who are recognized or in some capacity to participate in the Games.
“If there is an increase in cases, we will continue the discussion,” Muto said. “At this point, the cases of coronavirus may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”
But a spokesman for Tokyo 2020, which was named last year for the postponed Olympics, later said that organizers were “focused 100% on delivering successful Games.”
Some corporate sponsors have dropped plans to attend Friday’s opening ceremony, and due to the pandemic, no spectators will be at athletic events to reduce health risks.
Japan’s vaccination program has been shorter than that of most other developed countries. It has recorded over 840,000 cases and 15,055 deaths. Tokyo continues to report a surge in cases with 1,387 new cases reported on Tuesday.
An Olympic “bubble” mandates repeated COVID-19 testing and is designed to limit participants’ movements.
But Seiko Hashimoto, the chairman of the organizing committee, told a news conference that security measures designed to reassure the Japanese public were not necessary, and that he knew popular support for the Games had fallen.
“I really want to apologize from the bottom of my heart for the accumulation of frustration and concerns that the public is feeling towards the Olympics,” Hashimoto said.
Hashimoto said the public was concerned “because they think the current situation shows that the playbook designed to guarantee security is not providing a sense of security.”
Asahi Shimbun The newspaper said 68% of respondents in a survey expressed doubts about Olympic organizers’ ability to control coronavirus infections, with 55% saying they oppose the Games going ahead.
Several top athletes – American tennis star Coco Gauff, among them – have been ruled out of the Games after testing positive for COVID-19 or with various injuries. This Thursday, a day before the official opening, the South African men’s football team may struggle to field 11 players for their match against Japan, due to the coronavirus.
The country’s baseball federation said on Tuesday that two members of Mexico’s Olympic baseball team tested positive for COVID-19 at the team hotel before departing for Tokyo.
Some information in this report has been received from Reuters and AP.