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Editorial: PM Suga yet to explain significance of holding Tokyo Olympics amid pandemic

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, why are the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games going to be held, and can the government ensure the public's safety? We have yet to hear convincing answers to these questions from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

    A party leaders' debate was recently held in the Diet for the first time in two years. Yukio Edano, leader of the largest opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, stated, "The greatest risk is triggering a spread of infections by hosting the games." He then asked for the prime minister's position on hosting the games.

    Suga responded by speaking at length of his memories of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, then said, "I want to deliver a message from Japan to the world that we can overcome the difficulty of the coronavirus pandemic."

    On the decision on whether to allow spectators at the games, Suga merely stated that bodies including the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would decide on a course of action this month.

    Shigeru Omi, who heads the government's coronavirus countermeasures subcommittee, has pointed out the risk of the coronavirus spreading if the games go ahead.

    Kazuo Shii, chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, pressed Suga to explain why Japan had to go so far to hold the games, but the prime minister sidestepped the question, stating, "We will work on the details of infection countermeasures, also taking Mr. Omi's views into consideration."

    While Suga was questioned on the significance of holding the games and his grounds for saying they would be safe and secure, he didn't give an adequate response.

    The prime minister is striving to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19, and stressed that by October or November he hoped to have inoculations completed for all residents who wanted to received them. But only a portion of citizens will be able to get them by the time the Olympics begin. The push to have people vaccinated is not a basis for claiming safety and security.

    The party leaders' debate provides a chance for one-on-one clashes between the prime minister and opposition leaders on political opinions. But the prime minister did not squarely respond to queries, and Edano did not dive in and question him.

    The ruling coalition plans to bring the current Diet session to a close as scheduled on June 16. If that happens, chances for the prime minister to provide explanations in the Diet will vanish. Edano called for the Diet session to be extended, saying that the response to the coronavirus crisis should be debated in parliament, but the prime minister showed no signs of complying.

    Suga has explained that the Olympics are a "festival of peace." But it is not possible to wipe away the public's uneasiness and questions with such abstract expressions. He cannot be permitted to proceed with the foregone conclusion that the games will go ahead.

    Regarding the staging of the games, Suga has repeatedly stated, "It is my responsibility to protect the lives and health of the public. The premise is that if I can't protect people, then then we won't hold them." If that's the case, then how will he protect the public? He has a responsibility to give an explanation in terms that are easy for people to follow.

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