(ATR) Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says "everything possible" is being done to keep the coronavirus from spreading in Japan ahead of the Olympics and Paralympics, 98 days away,
"There’s no change to the government’s stance, to do everything possible to prevent the spread of infections as we head towards the Olympics," Suga said at a press conference April 15.
Suga’s press conference comments follow remarks the day before from the number-two leader in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai.
In a seeming break with party policy, Nikai said that a cancellation of the Olympics and Paralympics may still be an option.
"If it becomes impossible, then it should be called off," he said in the interview on Tokyo Broadcasting Service.
"What is the point of the Olympics if it's responsible for spreading infections? We will have to make a decision at that point."
But Nikai said the Olympics also represent a big opportunity for Japan that the country should grasp.
In a statement from his office after the TV interview Nikai says he was only calling for the Olympics and Paralympics to be held in Tokyo as long as conditions are safe.
"What I meant was, if you are asking whether the Olympics and Paralympics should be held no matter what, I would say no," he said in a statement.
Suga is travelling to the U.S. for a meeting with President Joseph Biden at the White House. The April 16 summit is the first face-to-face meeting with the new U.S. President and another head of state. Suga could extend an invitation to Biden to attend the Games in Tokyo.
Recent pollingshows 72 percent of the public supports cancelling or further postponement of the Olympics and Paralympics.
Torch Relay Worries, Hokkaido Drops 10k
Concerns over the impact of the Olympic Torch Relay on the spread of the coronavirus has led the governor of Okinawa prefecture to call for alternatives to staging the relay when it arrives May 1. The island is already on alert due to a rise in infections. The possibility of taking the relay off public streets and into a park is reported to be under consideration, similar to what was done this week in Osaka. The western Japan city of Matsuyama will follow the Osaka model when the relay arrives April 21.
In Sapporo, officials have cancelled plans for a 10k run with 2500 participants on May 5 that was to use a portion of the Olympic marathon course. The cancellation is tied directly to a surge in coronavirus cases in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido. A half marathon with about 160 runners meant as a test of the Olympic course will still take place. The marathon route was moved to Sapporo in 2019 to avoid safety issues arising from Tokyo’s hot and humid weather in early August.
New Report Says Cancel Olympics
A report published this week in the British Medical Journal calls for the Olympics and Paralympics to be cancelled in Tokyo.
"While the determination is encouraging, there has been a lack of transparency about the benefits and risk, and international mass gathering events such as Tokyo 2020 are still neither safe nor secure," the report said.
"Holding Tokyo 2020 for domestic political and economic purposes — ignoring scientific and moral imperatives — is contradictory to Japan’s commitment to global health and human security."
Reported by Ed Hula.