TOKYO (Kyodo) -- An economic adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga drew fire for downplaying the COVID-19 situation in Japan and dismissing calls to cancel the Tokyo Olympics.
"Japan is a mere ripple" in the ocean, Yoichi Takahashi tweeted Sunday along with a graph showing the number of infections in Japan as much lower than countries including India and the United States. "So the Olympics should be canceled for this? lol lol."
The remark, which has been retweeted more than 14,000 times, was criticized as tone-deaf as more than 10,000 in Japan have died of COVID-19. Many businesses have also gone under or are struggling to survive amid restrictions under a state of emergency in Tokyo and other regions.
"This is such an inconsiderate comment. I'm disgusted," said one Twitter user. "Think about those that have passed away and their families," said another.
Kazuo Shii, chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, called for Takahashi's resignation, lambasting him as "lacking the ability to imagine or feel the pain of all the people who have suffered and lost their lives" and unfit for government.
Asked about the tweet in a parliamentary session on Monday, Suga declined to comment, saying the remark was made in a personal capacity and that he has never gone to Takahashi, a professor at Kaetsu University, for advice on the Olympics.
The Summer Games continue to face strong public opposition in the run-up to its start on July 23. A Kyodo News poll conducted last month showed 39.2 percent believe they should be canceled, while 32.8 percent said they should be postponed again.
Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, also declined to comment on Takahashi's tweet at a press conference, instead offering prayers for those who have died and wishing COVID-19 patients a speedy recovery.
A former Finance Ministry bureaucrat, Takahashi was appointed special adviser to the Cabinet in October shortly after Suga took office.