Suga acknowledges people’s concern over Olympics as petition gathers steam

(Update 1: adds Suga’s remarks)

Tokyo, May 7 (EFE).- Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiide Suga on Friday said he was aware of the “growing concern” of citizens about the upcoming Olympic Games even as an online petition to cancel the event has gathered more than 210,000 signatures.

However, the prime minister insisted in a press conference that the Games could be held under strict measures.

“We are considering strict anti-virus measures, such as testing Olympic athletes for the coronavirus every day. By implementing those measures, we believe we can hold the Games safely and securely, while protecting people’s health and their lives,” Suga said, according to state broadcaster NHK.

The prime minister referred to his recent visit to the United States, where he met the CEO of pharma company Pfizer and received an offer by the company to donate vaccines for athletes and other Olympic personnel.

He also called for speeding up the vaccination drive in Japan, which has been quite delayed compared to other countries.

Suga’s remarks comes after the online campaign to cancel the Games received massive support within just two days.

“We demand cancellation of the Tokyo Olympic Games in order to protect our lives and well-being,” the petition says.

“As numbers show, the widespread outbreak of Covid-19 has not at all been under control,” it says, adding that “with the circumstances that we are under, it is certainly unlikely that the Tokyo Olympics could be held safely.”

The campaign, launched on May 5 by well-known Japanese lawyer and activist Kenji Utsunomiya, is addressed to International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach.

The holding of the Olympic and Paralympic Games “will not be possible without the help from countless healthcare workers, medical institutions, and valuable medical resources. Multiple medical professionals however, have already informed the public that there is no such room for more medical demands,” the petition says.

Medical personnel in Japan have pushed back against a plan to deploy 10,000 staff for the Olympics while they are under enormous pressure amid the fourth wave of the country’s epidemic.

A state of emergency is currently place in the most populated regions and due to the rise in infections, it will run until the end of May.

The final straw was a request from the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee for the Japan Nursing Association to provide 500 nurses to work “voluntarily” during the Games.

“It is highly possible that holding the Olympics will be a super-spreader and worsen the situation that we are currently in,” the petition says.

The petition concludes by asking the organizations involved to “listen to the voices coming from Japan and across the world to cancel the games,” recalling poll numbers in the Asian country against the holding of Tokyo 2020.

A poll by Kyodo News in January showed that around 80 percent of people in Japan believe that the Games should be canceled or rescheduled, but organizers have said they will go ahead.

On Thursday, the IOC announced the signing of an agreement for Pfizer/BioNTech to donate doses of their vaccine to Games participants, including athletes and staff, although the logistical details of this decision aren’t yet known.

Japan is in the grip of the fourth wave of the Covid pandemic, with the archipelago expected to register over 6,000 fresh infections on Friday, its highest caseload since January, when the earlier emergency had been imposed.

Authorities have included two new prefectures, Aichi and Fukuoka, in the state of emergency while extending the alert from the earlier deadline of May 11.

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