Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have refused to rule out cancelling the event just three days before it is due to start amid concern over rising Covid cases.
Toshiro Muto, head of the organising committee, was asked directly at a press conference on Tuesday whether the showpiece event – which has cost Japan some £12billion – could still be called off, and refused to rule it out.
It comes as the number of Covid cases linked to the Games rose to 71 with infections in Athletes’ Village, and three more sponsors announced they will not be sending representatives to the Opening Ceremony due to anger in Japan.
The Tokyo Opening Ceremony is due to take place on Friday after a year of delays caused by the Covid pandemic.
Toshiro Muto, head of the Tokyo organising committee, was asked at a press conference whether the Games could still be called off and said meetings will take place later this week
But Muto put that in doubt on Tuesday, telling reporters: ‘We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases.
‘So we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases.
‘We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again. At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.’
COVID-19 cases are rising in Tokyo rising and the Games, postponed last year because of the pandemic, will be held without spectators.
Japan this month decided that participants would compete in empty venues to minimise the risk of further infections.
Muto, a former top financial bureaucrat with close ties to Japan’s ruling party, is known for his careful choice of words, while organisers are facing a domestic public angry about coronavirus restrictions and concerned over a possible spike in cases triggered by Games attendees arriving from abroad.
The number of cases now linked to the Games stands at 71, after 13 positive tests were reported on Monday.
They include two athletes – Czech volleyball player Ondrej Perusic who was staying at the Athletes’ Village in Tokyo and US gymnast Kara Eaker staying at a training camp in Chiba prefecture.
Both are now in a 14-day quarantine which for Perusic will cover all three of his scheduled games with partner David Schweiner.
The Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics is due to take place on Friday, but organisers have been spooked by rising Covid cases among athletes and Games staff (file image)
Ondrej Perusic, a volleyball player staying at Athletes’ Village in Tokyo (pictured), was among 13 people liked to the Games who tested positive Monday – bringing total to 71
Another case affected an unnamed ‘games-concerned personnel’, which includes team coaches and staffers.
Officials said the person is staying in Tokyo but not at the Athletes’ Village.
The other positive tests were spread out across Japan and included Games contractors and a volunteer.
In Mexico, two members of the country’s baseball team tested positive before their departure, the country’s baseball federation said on Tuesday.
The athletes, Hector Velazquez and Sammy Solis, who tested positive on July 18, have been isolated, as have all team members pending results of more tests, it said
It comes against the backdrop of Covid cases rising in Japan overall as a fourth wave of infection driven by the Delta variant hits, with Tokyo in a state of emergency and large gatherings banned.
Tokyo on Tuesday reported more than 1,300 Covid causes, up from 550 a week ago.
That has led to public anger directed at the Olympics, with polls showing a majority of Japanese do not support the event going ahead.
In turn, that has led sponsors to become nervous about their association with the Games, with Toyota saying Monday that it will not air any Olympic-themed TV ads during the event and will not send a representative to the Opening Ceremony.
The company was joined on Tuesday by Panasonic, Fujitsu and NEC Group, which said they will not send company representatives to the ceremony – if it goes ahead.
Another Olympic drop-out includes South Korean President Moon Jae-in who was due to attend the event before holding his first ever summit with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
But Seoul said Mr Moon will no longer attend after a Japanese diplomat was caught describing his attempt to improve relations as ‘masturbating’.
‘President Moon has decided not to visit Japan,’ Moon’s press secretary Park Soo-hyun told a briefing.
Moon’s office said it turned ‘skeptical’ about his potential trip after the Japanese diplomat’s ‘unacceptable’ comment.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympics Committee, continued to insist today that cancelling the games is ‘not an option’ but admitted to suffering ‘doubts’ and ‘sleepless nights’ about pressing ahead.
Amid fears over anger at the Games sponsors are loosening their ties, with Toyota (pictured on marketing), Panasonic, Fujitsu and NEC Group no longer attending the Opening Ceremony
‘Over the past 15 months we had to take many decisions on very uncertain grounds. We had doubts every day. We deliberated and discussed. There were sleepless nights,’ said Bach.
‘This also weighed on us, it weighed on me. But in order to arrive at this day today we had to give confidence, had to show a way out of this crisis,’ he added.
Bach has drawn scattered protests during his visit to Japan, where the latest poll in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper showed 55 per cent of respondents oppose holding the Games now.
He also sought to defend the ‘bubble’ system for athletes which includes daily testing to try and keep cases down. Some 80 per cent are also fully vaccinated.
But scientist said it is obvious that the ‘bubble’ has already burst with cases climbing even in Athletes’ Village.
“It’s obvious that the bubble system is kind of broken,” said Kenji Shibuya, the former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London.
“My biggest concern is, of course, there will be a cluster of infections in the (athletes’) village or some of the accommodation and interaction with local people,” Shibuya added.
Japan has recorded more than 840,000 cases of COVID-19 and 15,055 deaths. Host city Tokyo is experiencing a fresh surge, with 1,387 cases recorded on Tuesday.
A rocky vaccination rollout has added to concerns. About one-third of Japan’s population has had at least one vaccination shot and about 22 per cent are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy countries.
Adding to the sense of chaos, Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko (pictured) fled Tokyo on Tuesday to seek refuge in Japan before being found at a train station 100 miles away
Adding to the general sense of disorganisation and chaos, a Ugandan weightlifter fled from his room while apparently seeking refuge in Japan before being found more than 100 miles from Tokyo at a train station.
Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, was discovered in Yokkaichi city on Tuesday afternoon having skipped a Covid test and fled Tokyo earlier in the day.
Ssekitoleko left behind his luggage and a note saying he wanted to stay in Japan and work, Izumisano officials said.
He did not meet Olympic standards in the latest international rankings released after he arrived Japan and was to return home this week.
On their arrival on June 19 at Narita International Airport, a member of the team tested positive and was quarantined, while the remaining eight members were allowed to travel more than 300 miles on a chartered bus to Izumisano.
Days later, a second member of the team tested positive, forcing seven town officials and drivers who had close contact with the team to self-isolate.
Health officials said both infected Ugandans had the delta variant, which is believed to be more contagious.
The team, which ended its isolation and trained from July 7, headed to Tokyo’s Olympic village on Tuesday without Ssekitoleko.
One bit of good news for organisers on Tuesday was confirmation that Japan’s Emperor Naruhito will be in attendance at the Opening Ceremony.
Rumours had circulated last month that the 61-year-old was ‘concerned’ that holding the Games would contribute to the spread of Covid, but his attendance will now largely put the controversy to bed.
However, his wife Empress Masako will not be joining him.
Local media reports said Naruhito will declare the Games open, but the official said it was not immediately known if he will speak at the opening ceremony.
The emperor, who took the throne in 2019, is the honorary patron of the Tokyo Olympics.
Imperial family members are unlikely to watch any other Olympic events, which will almost all take place behind closed doors to limit infections, reports said.
On Thursday, Naruhito will receive a courtesy visit at the Imperial Palace from senior officials of the International Olympic Committee, including its president Thomas Bach, according to public broadcaster NHK.
The emperor will also host foreign leaders and guests at the palace on Friday, NHK said.
Naruhito’s father, then Emperor Akihito, proclaimed the start of the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, while his grandfather, then Emperor Hirohito, declared the opening of both the 1964 Tokyo Summer Games and the 1972 Sapporo Winter Games.
Team GB athletes warned to stay out of Tokyo restaurants amid fury from locals at Games going ahead
Team GB’s athletes have been warned against going to restaurants serving alcohol or staying open late in Tokyo amid backlash against the Olympics.
Locals in Japan’s capital are widely opposed to the Games and are furious at the presence of athletes and guests amid a state of emergency.
And while already under a strict set of rules from organisers, athletes have been told that teams should ‘not visit restaurants that are open after 8pm or that serve alcohol’.
It comes after reports of people accredited to the Games being seen drinking in downtown bars and restaurant or breaking quarantine rules.
There is considerable concern among the Games’ bosses that any rule breaking ‘has the potential to severely damage the reputation of the Tokyo 2020 Games and your organisations’.
A survey by Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper found that the public were not on the athlete’s side, with more than half not wanting the Games to go ahead at all.
Official advice seen by The Times states: ‘Even after your first 14 days in Japan, this will be perceived as visiting a business that operates illegally and could constitute a grave reputational risk to yourself, your organisation, and the Tokyo 2020 Games.’
Team GB is taking 375 athletes, a record number for an overseas games, including swimmer Adam Peaty, sailor Hannah Mills and cyclist Geraint Thomas.
Alcohol has been banned from the Olympic village, and Olympians and Paralympians must eat alone, be tested daily, and refrain from talking in confined spaces such as elevators.
Six British athletes and two support staff have already had to isolate because a passenger on their flight to Tokyo tested positive for Covid-19.