Tokyo state of emergency won’t stop Olympics, says IOC member

John Coates says plans in place to host Games even in ‘worst possible circumstances’

Visitors walk past an Olympic Ring monument at Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) headquarters in Tokyo. Photo: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

Visitors walk past an Olympic Ring monument at Japan Olympic Committee (JOC) headquarters in Tokyo. Photo: Kimimasa Mayama/EPA

 

A senior member of the International Olympic Committee has said the Tokyo 2020 Games can go ahead even if the host city is under a state of emergency because of the coronavirus.

“All the measures we are undertaking will ensure a safe Games regardless of whether there is a state of emergency or not,” John Coates, an IOC vice-president who is in charge of preparations, told reporters after a virtual meeting with organisers on Friday.

“Provided that we can protect the Japanese public, the most important thing is giving athletes a chance to compete.”

The IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers have insisted the Games will go ahead, despite widespread public opposition in Japan and warnings from health experts that the arrival of tens of thousands of athletes, officials, journalists and support staff this summer risked spreading Covid-19.

Japanese doctors and medical workers have called for the Games to be cancelled to relieve pressure on overwhelmed health services, while a recent poll found that 83 per cent of the public want the event to be either called off or postponed for a second time.

While most athletes are expected to be fully vaccinated by the time the Games open in two months’ time, only 4.1 per cent of Japan’s population has received at least one jab – the lowest rate of any advanced economy – and only 30 per cent of medical workers in Tokyo are fully protected, the Nikkei business newspaper said.

Seiko Hashimoto, the president of Tokyo 2020, said up to 230 doctors and 310 nurses would be needed each day during the Olympics and the Paralympics. The number of officials, journalists and other Games-related staff due to arrive in Tokyo has been cut from 180,000 to 78,000, she added.

“I can say it’s now clearer than ever that these Games would be safe for everyone participating and, importantly, safe for the people of Japan,” Coates said, adding that the IOC was working with organisers to send medical personnel to Tokyo. “After eight years of hard work and planning, the finish line is within touching distance.”

Tokyo and nine other prefectures in Japan are subject to state of emergency measures that include a ban on alcohol sales at bars and restaurants – which must also close at 8pm – and requests to avoid travel and non-essential outings. On Sunday, similar restrictions will go into effect in Okinawa prefecture, which reported a record number of infections this week.

The state of emergency in Tokyo is due to end on May 31st, but health experts have cautioned that daily cases, while lower than last week, have not fallen to a level that would justify an easing of restrictions.

On Friday, Shigeru Omi, who heads the government’s coronavirus advisory panel, told MPs that organisers must consider the impact the Games could have on Japan’s medical infrastructure before deciding whether to go ahead.

Preparations for Tokyo 2020 have been hit by disruptions to the torch relay, while on Friday the Canadian swimming team became the latest delegation to pull out of a pre-Olympic training camp over coronavirus fears.

Plans for about 50 training camps have been scrapped, and dozens of Japanese towns have abandoned plans to host athletes. – Guardian

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