Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday that the Tokyo Olympics could not take place next year unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained, as the city’s governor requested an extension of Japan’s state of emergency.
The International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government last month postponed the Games until July 2021 because of the coronavirus crisis.
With the epidemic’s worldwide infection rate climbing and experts suggesting a vaccine is a long way off, doubts have been raised about the chances of holding the huge event next year.
“We’ve been saying the Olympic and Paralympic Games must be held in a complete form, in that athletes and spectators can all participate safely. It would be impossible to hold the Games in such a complete form unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained,” Abe said in response to an opposition lawmaker.
Abe staked part of his legacy as Japan’s longest-serving premier on holding the Games and was hoping for a boom in tourism and consumer spending. Japan gathered some $3 billion in domestic sponsorship, an Olympic record, and spent close to $13 billion on preparations.
The prime minister said on Wednesday that the Olympics “must be held in a way that shows the world has won its battle against the coronavirus pandemic,” and cautioned that Japan should “brace for a protracted battle”.
Tokyo confirmed 47 new infections on Wednesday, private broadcaster Nippon Television reported. The national tally stands at 13,895 infections, including 413 deaths, national broadcaster NHK said.
While that tally is still low compared to other nations, critics say Japan is not doing enough testing to reveal the scope of a problem that has driven some hospitals to the brink.