Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed on Monday to forge ahead with preparations to hold the Tokyo Olympics this summer, in the face of growing public opposition as Japan battles a surge in coronavirus infections.
In a speech opening a new Parliament session, Suga said his government would revise laws to make anti-virus measures enforceable with penalties and compensation.
Early in the pandemic, Japan was able to keep its virus caseload manageable with non-binding requests for businesses to close or operate with social distancing and for people to stay home.
But recent weeks have seen several highs in new cases per day, in part blamed on eased attitudes toward the anti-virus measures, and doubts are growing as more contagious variants spread while people wait for vaccines and the Olympics draw closer.
Suga said his government aims to start vaccinations as early as late February.
“In order to restore sense of safety, I will get the coronavirus pandemic, which has raged worldwide and is now severely affecting Japan, under control as soon as possible, Suga said. I will stand at the frontline of the battle while I get the people’s cooperation.”
Suga repeated he was still committed to holding the Games as “proof of mankind’s victory over the virus”.
“We will have full anti-infection measures in place and proceed with preparation with a determination to achieve the Games that can deliver hope and courage throughout the world,” he said.
Monday’s comments echo a pledge by International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach that the Tokyo Olympics will be a “light at the end of the tunnel” in the global pandemic fight.
Organisers face no shortage of logistical headaches, with tough decisions looming over how to welcome spectators and athletes while safeguarding against the virus.
The IOC expects just 6,000 athletes at the opening ceremony, down from an initial figure of about 11,000 from 200 nations, the Yomiuri newspaper said on Monday.
It plans to scale back the ceremony because athletes will not be allowed to arrive at the Olympic Village more than five days before they compete and must depart within two days of completion of their events, the paper added.
“We believe it is necessary to reconsider the number of participants at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and how they will enter the stadium,” the Tokyo 2020 organising committee said in an email. “This step would ensure the safety and security of the athletes and simplify operations, it said, while adding that a specific approach had not yet been decided in its talks with the IOC and other groups.”