The once-delayed Tokyo Olympics may not take place this summer as planned as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, a Japanese minister said on Thursday, saying the host must be prepared for anything.
“We have to do our best to prepare for the Games right now, but it could go both ways,” Taro Kono, minister for administrative and regulatory reform, said in an interview with Reuters Next conference.
A global resurgence of COVID-19, including record infection levels in Japan, has raised new doubts about the Games, which have been postponed for a year to 2020.
The government on Wednesday extended its state of emergency well beyond the Tokyo region, and new coronavirus infections in the capital surpassed 1,500 on Thursday, according to the NHK public broadcaster.
Japanese public appetite for sporting extravagance has waned, with 77% of respondents to a poll this week saying it should be canceled or postponed. But the Games – and the tourism dollars they bring in – are a top priority for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Suga and others have repeatedly said that the decision to go forward rests with the International Olympic Committee and that their agreement to continue preparations is valid.
“Anything is possible, but as the host of the Games we have to do whatever we can so that when it’s a Go we can have good Olympics,” Kono said in some of the loudest comments to date a government minister on the uncertainty. during the Games.
“The Olympic Committee must think about plan B, plan C. But the situation is not easy.”
Kono, a US-trained former foreign and defense minister open to his ambition to be prime minister, is known for his outspoken views.
Suga said on Wednesday he had heard nothing to suggest the Games were not going and that planning was going “full steam ahead”.
Some foreign sports officials remain optimistic about the outlook, such as UK team chef de mission Mark England, who on Wednesday said he was “extremely confident about the Games this summer”.
But even if they open as scheduled on July 23, organizers may need to limit the number of spectators to guard against infections. Japan is also expected to ease the stringent immigration controls that prevent most foreigners from entering the country.
This month, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee Chairman Yoshiro Mori said a decision should be made in February or March on whether the risks of COVID-19 are reduced enough to allow spectators to ‘to attend.