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Top Japan doctor calls for Games ruling by June 20
The Olympic Games logo is seen near a traffic sign in Tokyo. Photo: Reuters.

Government chief medical adviser Shigeru Omi said earlier that hosting the Olympic Games during a coronavirus pandemic was “not normal”

(AF) Japan’s most senior medical adviser called on Thursday for a council of scientific experts to decide by June 20 whether Tokyo should host the Olympic Games, as volunteers have begun to desert the events in droves.

The call by government chief medical adviser Shigeru Omi follows his earlier comments that hosting a large sports event during the coronavirus pandemic was “not normal”.

Most of the public oppose holding the Olympics — due to start on July 23 after being postponed from last year — while doctors fear the event would strain a healthcare system seeing record numbers in critical condition and struggling to vaccinate the nation.

In one of the strongest warnings yet, Omi said organisers should explain to the public why they are going ahead. “It’s not normal to hold the Olympic Games in a situation like this,” Omi told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday.

Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board member Kaori Yamaguchi – who represented Japan at judo in the 1980s – said the Games had lost their meaning but that it was too late to cancel.

Economists said cancelling the Games would incur a cost. “It would increase direct economic losses to around 0.2% of gross domestic product,” Barclays analyst Tetsufumi Yamakawa said.

PUBLIC OPINION

But axeing the Games could support containment of the pandemic and spur an early election that might benefit the government due to a grateful populace, analysts said.

“We could see material improvement in the approval rating for the Suga administration,” Daiwa Securities analyst Eiji Kinouchi said. “We thus could see an early dissolution of the lower house.”

But the JOC’s Yamaguchi said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) appeared to think that public opinion in Japan was not important.

Opinion polls consistently show a big majority of Japanese want the Games cancelled or postponed again as the country battles a fourth wave of the pandemic.

The Olympics and Paralympics are expected to involve about 15,000 athletes from around the world and as many as 78,000 officials and workers from overseas.

But Toshiro Muto, chief executive of the organising committee, on Wednesday said 10,000 volunteers originally scheduled to help at venues and the athletes’ village have quit.

A reception for overseas dignitaries scheduled to be hosted by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on August 8, the day of the closing ceremony, will be cancelled.

The reception at a Tokyo hotel was scrapped due to concerns over potential coronavirus infections and as part of efforts to cut costs and scale down the games, the Associated Press reported.

With reporting by Reuters

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George Russell

George Russell is a freelance writer and editor based in Hong Kong who has lived in Asia since 1996. His work has been published in the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, New York Post, Variety, Forbes and the South China Morning Post.

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