Calls to cancel Tokyo Olympics grow louder as COVID-19 emergency extended

A petition calling to cancel the Tokyo Olympics gathered support in Japan on Friday, as the government prepared to extend the state of emergency in the city and beyond to control the spread of the virus.

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A Change.org petition titled “Cancel the Tokyo Olympics to protect our lives” had gained more than 200,000 supporters by late afternoon.

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“The spread of the virus has not been stopped at all in Tokyo, the rest of the country or the world,” the petition reads. “Vaccination is so far limited to certain regions like the US and Europe, so it is not a definitive way of stopping infections. Are we going to hold the Tokyo Olympics even if it puts lives and jobs in danger?”

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has been determined to press ahead with the Tokyo Games, already delayed a year due to the pandemic, billing the sporting extravaganza as an opportunity to declare victory over the virus.

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Voters disagree. A survey by the Asahi newspaper last month found just 28 per cent wanted the event to go ahead in July, while 34 per cent wanted it postponed again and 35 per cent wanted it cancelled outright.

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Several regions of Japan have had problems staging their legs of the Olympic torch relay, while participants including celebrities have in many cases dropped out. The governor of the southwestern prefecture of Fukuoka, Seitaro Hattori, on Thursday became the latest local leader to say that carrying out the relay would be extremely difficult, Jiji Press reported.

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The campaign for cancellation comes as Japan struggles to vaccinate its people — it has immunised less than two per cent of the total population, according to data collected by Bloomberg, the least among OECD countries and behind places such as Myanmar, Bangladesh and Rwanda.

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With 11 weeks to go until the opening ceremony, Suga is set to extend the current state of emergency that covers Tokyo, Osaka and other western regions until the end of May and expand it to include two new areas struggling with a rise in cases.

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Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee signed an agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech SE, which will donate vaccines to athletes and delegations travelling to the Games. The first deliveries are expected to begin by the end of this month.

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