Can the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games this summer go ahead as planned even as there remains no clear prospect of getting coronavirus infections under control? Opposition lawmakers focused their questions on this issue during a recent House of Representatives Budget Committee session, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was unable to provide any convincing answers.
Yukio Edano, chief of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDP), openly called for the games to be called off, saying, "The lives and livelihoods of the Japanese people are incompatible with holding the Olympics."
In response, Suga stated that the decision on whether to go ahead with the games was up to the main organizers, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and that therefore the central government was not in a position to make the decision. However, it was then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who led the push to postpone the Tokyo Games last year. Considering this fact, we have to say that Suga's attitude is utterly irresponsible.
It also became starkly clear during the committee deliberations that the government has no concrete plans to prevent games-related coronavirus transmissions.
First, not even the Olympics minister could say how many people connected to the event would be arriving in Japan. Without knowing this number, it is impossible to decide how many medical staff will be required to cover their needs. Furthermore, the government has said that it will require all athletes to take a polymerase chain reaction test for the coronavirus daily, and games-related personnel to get tested regularly. However, swelling numbers of such staff could impact testing for locals.
The prime minister was also asked who would get priority treatment, an infected athlete or a Japanese citizen, if they were sent to the same hospital, but Suga evaded the question. Instead, he kept giving answers that were essentially riffs on a single slogan: "We will put all our effort into putting on a safe and secure games." This can only invite greater anxiety among the Japanese people.
Suga backed his assertion that the Olympics and Paralympics could go ahead with the suggestion that Japan would vaccinate all athletes via the IOC. However, under such a scenario, athletes could be perceived as getting special treatment at a time when inoculations for the people of Japan are proceeding at a snail's pace.
An academic and top economic adviser to the prime minister stoked the flames with a recent tweet declaring the scale of new infections in Japan "a mere ripple" compared to those seen overseas that would not have a significant impact on the games. This rubbed national sentiment the wrong way, but Suga would not engage on the subject, saying only that it was the adviser's "personal opinion."
Asked by opposition lawmakers if he wasn't "prioritizing the Olympics above all else," Suga shot back that the suggestion was "extremely rude." Yet the current state of affairs that the government is leading is glaringly out of sync with the views of the people.
The first thing the Japanese government must do is face the people's anxieties head-on.