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Japanese anti-Olympics campaign gains traction as pandemic simmers

Olympics Tokyo
A man wears a protective mask amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in front of the giant Olympic rings in Tokyo, Japan,
REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

More than 230,000 people have signed a Japanese petition calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be canceled in the two days since it was launched online, as public concerns mount over holding the showpiece event during a pandemic.

With 11 weeks to go before the start of the Games, already postponed from 2020 due to the coronavirus, questions remain over how Tokyo can host the global gathering while keeping volunteers, athletes, officials, and the Japanese public safe from COVID-19.

Organized by Kenji Utsunomiya, a lawyer who has run several times for Tokyo governor, the “Stop Tokyo Olympics” petition has gathered more than 230,000 signatures.

“Japanese people tend to not voice our opinions but there are many people now speaking up. Together with voices from overseas, I hope the Olympics will be canceled for now,” he told Reuters.

Games organizers and the Japanese government have repeatedly said the event needs to go ahead, in part as a symbol of the world’s triumph over the pandemic, and detailed COVID-19 protocols have been unveiled for participants.

But with a fourth wave heaping pressure on Japan’s medical system amid a sluggish vaccination rate, Utsunomiya said he had received a call from an exhausted hospital worker on Friday morning, thanking him for pushing back against the Games.

PUBLIC SKEPTICISM

Opinion polls have found a majority of the Japanese public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on July 23, and many in Tokyo were on Friday skeptical about whether they should go ahead, and wary about foreign visitors.

“It’s absurd that we are holding the Olympics under the COVID pandemic,” Katsumi Abiko, the 79-year-old owner of a kimono shop, told Reuters.

“If we make the decision now to cancel it, Japan will be praised for making the right decision and be remembered by history.”

The government has extended a state of emergency in the capital and three other areas until the end of May.

Several other Tokyo residents shared Abiko’s concerns, including 84-year-old Yoshihiro Nagao, though he believes that, on balance, the Olympics should go ahead.

“It’s safer not to do it, but since we’ve come this far, we all want to work hand in hand and succeed,” he said.

In that spirit of cooperation, Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE said on Thursday they had agreed to donate their vaccine to inoculate participants.

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