Japan’s inability to contain the COVID-19 pandemic means that plans to hold the Olympics in Tokyo should be reconsidered, health experts wrote in a commentary.
The 2020 Games, already delayed by one year, are due to begin in fewer than 100 days, even as Japan expands quasi-emergency measures to halt a fourth wave of infections.
Japan has exhibited “poor performance” in containing virus transmission, along with limited testing capacity and a slow vaccination rollout, according to the commentary published in the British Medical Journal on Wednesday.
“Plans to hold the Olympic and Paralympic games this summer must be reconsidered as a matter of urgency,” wrote lead author Kazuki Shimizu of the London School of Economics.
“Holding Tokyo 2020 for domestic political and economic purposes–ignoring scientific and moral imperatives–is contradictory to Japan’s commitment to global health and human security.”
The commentary adds to a drum beat of doubt among medical professionals that the Olympics can be carried out safely this summer. A survey of more than 1,000 Japanese doctors last month showed that 75% believed it was better to postpone the Games, according to physician referral company Ishinotomo.
Kyoto University professor Hiroshi Nishiura, an advisor to the government’s pandemic response, urged in a magazine commentary this week that authorities postpone the Olympics one year to allow for more time to vaccinate the public.
Japan began its inoculation push in February, later than most major economies. Only 0.9% of the Japanese public have received their first shot so far, compared with 2.5% in South Korea, and 48% in the United Kingdom.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Thursday the government would do “everything possible” to prevent the spread of coronavirus ahead of the Olympics, after a ruling party official said cancelling the event remained an option.
“There’s no change to the government’s stance, to do everything possible to prevent the spread of infections as we head towards the Olympics,” Suga said, sidestepping a reporter’s question as to whether cancellation was possible, as party heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai had said earlier.
Suga was speaking to reporters at the prime minister’s official residence ahead of his trip to the United States for a meeting with President Joe Biden.