Fresh fears for Tokyo Olympics amid surge in Covid-19 infections
Tokyo faces a fresh battle to host the 2020 Olympics in 2021 amid the second wave of Covid-19 in Japan.
The 2020 Olympics were rescheduled from last year after Japan and International Olympic Committee officials accepted defeat in March when the pandemic struck.
Then, there was an agreement a one-year wait would give the world ample time to overcome the pandemic.
Hundreds of Kenyan athletes, including middle and long-distance runners, plus the national women’s volleyball team, with the men and women’s rugby teams, are among those affected by the cancellation.
The delayed Olympics, organizers said, would be an opportunity to pay tribute to the human spirit in overcoming the world’s biggest public health crisis for a century.
But with just over half a year to go before the opening ceremony at the $1.4bn (£1.02bn) main stadium, media reports indicate organizers are battling rising costs stemming from the pandemic and, critically, waning public interest in the host country
Besides, in the nine months since the first postponement in the modern Games’ 124-year history, Olympic officials have found themselves wrongfooted by the virus at every turn.
Far from the communal celebration of sport envisaged by Abe, the harsh realities of Covid-19 have forced them to lower their expectations.
The discovery of a new variant of Covid-19 – which has now been identified in Japan and prompted a ban on non-resident arrivals – has only underlined the difficulties facing Olympic officials as they prepare for the March release of plans for a scaled-down Games.
During a visit to Tokyo in November, the IOC president, Thomas Bach, said he and Japan’s new prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, were “totally aligned in the full determination and confidence” to make the Olympics and Paralympics “a great success”, adding that the events would be “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Suga, meanwhile, was confident a “safe and secure” Olympics would offer “proof that humanity has defeated the virus”.
Just six weeks on, that sounds like wishful thinking. While Japan has fared better than many other countries – with 230,000 cases and just under 3,400 deaths – it is heading into the new year amid a surge in infections, with the host city at its centre.
On Wednesday Tokyo’s governor, Yuriko Koike, warned that the capital could face an “explosion” of cases and urged people to “put life before fun” and stay home over the new year holidays.
Only 24 hours later, Koike told the Kyodo news agency that Tokyo had 1,300 new infections, beating the previous one-day high of 949 from last Saturday.