Facing rising opposition, Japan PM Yoshihide Suga says Games not priority

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that he has never “put the Olympics first,” the same day an opinion poll showed nearly 60 percent of people in Japan want the Olympics cancelled less than three months before they begin, Reuters reports.

Japan has extended a state of emergency in Tokyo until the end of May and is struggling to contain a surge in infections, raising further questions about whether the Games should go on. Its vaccination rate is the lowest among wealthy nations.

International Olympic officials, Tokyo planners and Suga himself have insisted the Games will go on in “a safe and secure” way.

Foreign spectators have been barred and planners issued an elaborate playbook of rules last month aimed at preventing coronavirus infections. But a public opinion survey, from May 7-9 by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, showed 59 percent wanted the Games cancelled as opposed to 39 percent who said they should be held. “Postponement” was not offered as an option.

Another poll at the weekend by TBS News found 65 percent wanted the Games cancelled or postponed again, with 37 percent voting to scrap the event altogether and 28 percent calling for another delay.

More than 300,000 people have signed a petition to cancel the Games in roughly five days since it was launched.

Asked in a parliamentary committee meeting whether the Games will continue even if infections rise, Suga replied: “I’ve never put Olympics first”.

“My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus,” he added.

He repeated that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has the final say on the fate of the Games and that the government’s role is to take steps so they can be held safely.

The TBS survey found that Suga’s public approval rate was at 40 percent, close to record lows marked earlier this year.

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