IOC Chief Thomas Bach’s visit to Japan postponed due to coronavirus as Tokyo Games loom

Head of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach was forced to postpone a visit to Japan, organizers said on Monday, after the coronavirus state of emergency was extended less than three months before the Tokyo Games. Bach’s trip was scheduled for May 17-18, but organizers “decided to postpone it depending on various situations, including the (government) extension of the viral state of emergency.” several test events canceled, postponed or moved. An athletics test event involving more than 400 competitors was held behind closed doors at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on Sunday.

The Japanese government and Olympic officials insist the virus-postponed Games can be safely held this summer, although polls show most Japanese support the cancellation or some other delay.

In a statement, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee said it hoped the visit could take place “as soon as possible” and continue to assess the coronavirus situation. Japanese media said organizers plan to postpone Bach’s visit to June.

The state of emergency in Japan, which is less strict than general shutdowns in other countries, was extended last week until the end of May in the hardest-hit regions, including Tokyo.

Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo 2020 Games, said on Friday that it would be “very difficult” to organize the visit given the state of emergency.

The Covid-19 epidemic in Japan remains much lower than in many countries, with around 10,800 deaths.

But the rollout of its vaccine is progressing slowly and some regions have seen record cases as more infectious variants lead to new waves of contagion.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was forced on the defensive on Monday, telling parliament he “never put the Olympics first” and that his priority remains “the life and health of the Japanese people”.

TORCH RELAY STRIKE

IOC Vice-President John Coates told AFP on Saturday that nothing could prevent the Tokyo Olympics from taking place, despite the persistent risks associated with Covid-19.

More than 10,000 athletes from 200 countries and regions are expected to travel to Tokyo for the Games, with a decision on how many domestic fans – if any – can attend for June.

A poll published Monday by the Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun found that 59% of those polled wanted to cancel the postponed 2020 Games, which will open on July 23. The poll did not offer the possibility of a further postponement.

A separate survey by broadcaster TBS found that 37% of cancellations were canceled, while 28% wanted the Games to be delayed again.

And an online petition calling for the Games to be canceled has garnered more than 315,000 signatures since Wednesday.

But Games organizers insist the mega-event can run safely with strict virus rules.

The American drug giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech on Thursday announced an agreement with the IOC to provide vaccines to athletes and their delegations.

Japan’s own immunization program is progressing cautiously, however, with around one percent of the population having received two vaccines so far.

An increasing number of sections of the Olympic Torch Relay have been reduced and moved off-road to prevent people from gathering to watch.

Japanese media reported on Monday that two other regions would remove the public relay – Hyogo Prefecture, which is in a state of emergency, and Okayama, which is also experiencing an increase in cases of the virus.

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