IOC president likely to cancel visit to Japan as state of emergency extended

Amid slow vaccination rollout more than 230,000 sign petition to cancel the Olympics

International Olympic committee head Thomas Bach’s visit to Japan is now expected to be cancelled given that the state of emergency has been extended in Tokyo and other areas, broadcaster NHK said on Friday citing unnamed sources.

Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto also said on Friday that Bach's visit might be "difficult" with coronavirus cases showing no signs of abating and the government keeping infection countermeasures in place to slow the spread of the virus.

“I suspect that coming to Japan in the midst of this very severe situation would also be an emotional burden for president Bach,” she said at a news conference held on Friday.

Japanese media reports have said Bach would attend a torch relay ceremony in the western city of Hiroshima on May 17th, but Hashimoto said his visit had not been confirmed.

Tokyo 2020 organisers will keep a close eye on the coronavirus situation and make a decision on Olympic spectators in June based on that, Hashimoto also said.

On Friday, Japan extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and four other areas until the end of May, meaning the measures would end less than two months before the Olympics start on July 23rd after being postponed for a year due to the pandemic.

Despite Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga reiterating his stance that Japan can host "a safe and secure Olympics" while following appropriate Covid-19 containment measures - as of Friday, more than 230,000 people had signed a Japanese online petition calling for the Olympics to be cancelled. "We are putting all our efforts into stemming the spread of infections," Suga said, after acknowledging that he was "aware" of concerns about the Games.

Suga said Olympics organisers were considering a series of measures that would protect the health and lives of the Japanese public.

Slow

Japan has not suffered as badly from pandemic as other countries but its vaccination campaign has been slow. So far only around two per cent of the population of about 126 million has received at least one vaccine dose, according to Reuters data.

Suga promised to fast-track the government’s inoculation efforts and said it aimed to administer one million shots a day. He did not give a timetable for this, but said he hoped to have all elderly people wanting to get shots inoculated by the end of July.

Under the extended state of emergency, bars, restaurants, karaoke parlours and other places serving alcohol will remain closed, although large commercial facilities can re-open under shorter hours. Hard-hit Tokyo and Osaka will continue to keep these larger facilities closed.