Palace: Japanese Emperor “worried” about Olympia amid pandemic | Sports news


By MARI YAMAGUCHI, Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s Emperor Naruhito is “extremely concerned” that the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus, the Imperial Palace head said Thursday, with the Games opening in a month.

The Games will bring thousands of foreign athletes, officials, sponsors and journalists to Japan during a pandemic, despite expert precautions regarding the risk of infection and ongoing public demands for cancellation or further postponements.

Yasuhiko Nishimura, grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, said at a press conference that the emperor had raised concerns.

“His Majesty is extremely concerned about the current situation of COVID-19 infections,” said Nishimura. “While there have been voices of unease among the general public, I (the Emperor) are concerned that holding the Olympic and Paralympic Games … could lead to the spread of infections.”

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The delayed games will begin on July 23rd and the Paralympics will begin a month later.

Nishimura also called on the organizers “to take all possible anti-virus measures in order not to cause the spread of the infections at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, where the emperor serves as the patron of honor”.

The emperor is the symbol of the state without political power. But like his father, Naruhito has gained wide popularity and his words are highly respected.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics despite concerns from the public and health experts.

As for their concern, officials in Izumisano, a western Japanese city that hosts the Ugandan Olympic team of nine for training, said a second member of the team who tested positive for the virus. The first, allegedly a tour bus, was discovered upon arrival in Tokyo on Saturday. The rest of the team has isolated themselves at a hotel in Osaka.

Suga eased a third state of emergency in Tokyo, which has been in place since late April, and switched to less stringent measures that focus on shorter bar and restaurant hours. However, experts said on Wednesday that infections in the Tokyo area are already recovering and could accelerate in the coming weeks.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato downplayed the impact of the emperor’s concerns, saying he believed the grand steward had “expressed his personal views”.

Naruhito, 61, also expressed his concern about the pandemic in his speech at an academic award ceremony on Monday: “To meet this challenge, it is important for all of us to bring our hearts together and work together inside and outside Japan.”

According to the plan ahead of a year-long postponement, Naruhito should declare the start of the Olympics at the opening ceremony, but details, including his presence at the Games, remain to be determined, palace officials said.

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