Major Japanese newspaper calls for cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics

The Asahi is one of several media organisations listed as an official Olympic partner

 Protesters during a demonstration against the 2020 Olympic Games at Shinjuku in Tokyo. Photograph: EPA

Protesters during a demonstration against the 2020 Olympic Games at Shinjuku in Tokyo. Photograph: EPA

 

A major Japanese newspaper has called for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics, warning that the Games pose a threat to public health and will place additional strain on the country’s health service as it struggles to contain the latest wave of coronavirus.

In an editorial on Wednesday, the liberal Asahi Shimbun – an official Olympic partner – urged the prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, “to calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide on the cancellation of the event this summer”.

The Asahi is the first of several Japanese media organisations listed as official Tokyo 2020 sponsors to call for the Games to be scrapped, less than two months before they are due to open.

The Asahi, whose morning edition has a circulation of just over 5 million, pointed to widespread public opposition to the Olympics and criticised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its heavy-handed insistence that the Games will be held this summer regardless of the coronavirus situation in Japan.

Recent polls show that as many as 83 per cent of people in Japan do not want the Games to be held, with many fearing the arrival of about 80,000 officials, journalists and support staff could turn Tokyo 2020 into a coronavirus super-spreader event.

Organisations representing doctors and nurses say the event would redirect stretched medical resources from the battle against Covid-19 and the vaccine rollout, which is only just picking up speed.

Tokyo and nine other areas are currently under a state of emergency introduced late last month in response to a surge in infections driven by more contagious variants.

While Covid-19 cases in the capital have fallen in recent days, media reports said Suga is likely to extend the measures into next month as they have failed to make a significant dent in the daily caseload.

Japan has reported 726,000 Covid-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 12,500 deaths – higher than in many other countries in the region – but praise for its response to the pandemic has turned to frustration over repeated curbs on businesses and the slow vaccine rollout.

The Asahi sympathised with athletes who have trained for years in preparation for Tokyo 2020, but added that public health should take priority. “Don’t let the Olympics threaten it,” the editorial said.

The newspaper’s objections to Tokyo 2020 caused a stir on social media, with “Decision to cancel”, taken from the title of the editorial, generating more than 20,000 tweets on Wednesday morning.

The campaign to cancel the Games was given a further boost after a prominent economist warned that the ¥1.8tn ($16bn) Japan would lose from cancellation would be dwarfed by the economic hit from emergency measures imposed if the Olympics turn out to be a Covid-19 super-spreader.

Takahide Kiuchi, executive economist at the Nomura Research Institute and a former Bank of Japan board member, said that the first nationwide state of emergency last spring had caused an estimated ¥6.4tn yen loss, adding that further damages have resulted from subsequent states of emergency.

“If the [OLYMPICS]trigger the spread of infections and necessitate another emergency declaration, then the economic loss would be much greater than cancellation,” Kiuchi said in a report. The direct loss from a cancellation would be equivalent to a third of a percent of nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in fiscal 2020, he added.

“These calculations suggest that the decision of whether to hold or cancel the Games should be made from the perspective of infection risk rather than economic loss,” he said. - Guardian

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