Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga said today he has never put the Tokyo Olympic Games above health considerations as a new opinion poll showed that almost six in 10 people in Japan want the event to be cancelled.
A state of emergency in the Tokyo region, imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, has been extended to the end of May, with the games due to start in late July.
The poll, conducted on 7 to 9 May by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, showed 59 per cent of people in Japan are in favour of cancellation, while 39 per cent believe the Olympics should go ahead. Postponement was not offered as an option.
When asked in a parliamentary meeting whether the games will take place if Covid-19 infections were to spike, Suga said: “I’ve never put Olympics first. My priority has been to protect the lives and heath of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus.”
Over the weekend, John Coates, the head of the International Olympic Committee coordination commission for Tokyo 2020, already postponed from last year, claimed that he could not foresee a scenario in which the games would be cancelled.
He told AFP: "The prime minister of Japan said that to the president of the United States (Joe Biden) two or three weeks ago. He continues to say that to the IOC.
"We're working with him (Suga) on all of the safety measures. It's going ahead."
Suga has stressed that the IOC has the final say on the Olympics, while the Japanese government's role is to ensure they can be held safely.
However, pressure has been mounting on the organisers with Japanese lawyer and activist Kenji Utsunomiya last week launching a petition, addressed to IOC president Thomas Bach, calling for the cancellation of the games, which has now attracted more than 300,000 signatures.
Bach was set to visit Tokyo next week to attend a torch relay event in Hiroshima and meet with Suga but the trip has now been postponed because of the Covid-19 situation.
However, the IOC, Tokyo 2020 and the Japanese government have maintained that the Olympics, scheduled for 23 July to 8 August, can take place in a safe and secure way.
Foreign spectators are not permitted to attend, and a final decision on domestic fans will be made in June.
A test event in athletics was held at the main Olympic Stadium in Tokyo on Sunday, which involved 420 athletes, but no spectators, and enabled the organisers to fine-tune Covid-19 safety measures.
Addressing the subject of health risks at the Olympics, Sebastian Coe, the president of World Athletics, said: "We are very empathetic to the need to be fully recognising that communities around the world are inevitably nervous about many things related to Covid.
"We take those concerns very, very seriously. The Covid protocols, particularly that World Athletics have developed over the last year and a half by our health and science teams who are extremely good at this, have consistently helped deliver events in a safe and secure environment.”