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FOCUS: Suga facing growing hurdles on road to Olympic success

Tokyo, April 16 (Jiji Press)–With fewer than 100 days until the scheduled start of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s path to a successful staging of the events is becoming increasingly rocky as novel coronavirus infections spread more rapidly than expected.


The Suga administration claims that it is doing all it can to curb the spread of the virus, aiming to achieve “safe and secure” Olympics that serve as “a testament that humanity has overcome the novel coronavirus.” The government has also painted the games as an opportunity to showcase Japan’s recovery from the March 2011 major earthquake and tsunami.


While it has bowed to the reality of being unable to host the games in its full form, the administration has maintained that the event will not be canceled.


“The Olympics will go on in any event,” a senior official from the prime minister’s office said.


But the possibility of the government being forced to declare a third state of emergency over the coronavirus epidemic has cast a shadow over the future of the Tokyo Games.


The rise in coronavirus infections presents a catch-22 for Suga, as he may be forced to take responsibility if the Olympics trigger a further spread of the virus, while cancellation may amount to an admission of failure for government coronavirus policy measures.


Both outcomes are seen as damning for Suga, who faces a re-election vote as president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in September, as well as a House of Representatives election by October, when the term of current Lower House lawmakers are set to expire.


“If (the Olympic Games) are canceled, people will start to drift away from Suga,” a middle-ranking member of the LDP said.

Hinging on Pre-emergency Steps

The government is closely watching the efficacy of coronavirus pre-emergency steps implemented in Tokyo, which has seen new infections steadily increase, through May 11.


The steps, which enable local authorities to implement strict measures to prevent the spread of infections, cover central Tokyo’s 23 wards, including the locations of many Olympic venues, as well as cities in the capital such as Chofu, the home of the games’ soccer venue.


The results of the move are seen directly impacting whether Japan will be able to put on the Olympics as planned.


Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato declined to comment directly on Wednesday on whether the government will stick to its plan of holding the games even if the pre-emergency is extended or replaced by a state of emergency.


“We will continue preparations for holding the games while monitoring infections in and outside Japan, as well as cooperating closely with the Tokyo metropolitan government,” Kato said in a press conference.

No Plans for Olympic Diplomacy

The Japanese public is far from happy about the Tokyo Games, with events linked to the Olympic torch relay having been downsized due to the epidemic.


It is unclear whether the country will receive foreign leaders and other dignitaries at the games, as it has decided to ban overseas spectators in a bid to boost border measures against the virus.


The uncertainty is casting a cloud over the Suga administration’s hopes to use the opportunity to engage in summit diplomacy ahead of the Lower House election.


Nonetheless, the prime minister is steadfast in his basic strategy of calling a snap election after guiding the Tokyo Games to success. In line with this strategy, Suga plans to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics, due to be held at the Japan National Stadium in Tokyo on July 23, after having skipped a ceremony for the start of the Olympic torch relay on March 25.


But with vaccinations for elderly citizens only having begun recently, it is unclear whether the government will be able to get the epidemic under control by the summer games.


“We have no way of knowing what (the state of infections) will be by the time the Olympics begin,” a government official said.

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