As COVID cases among Olympians pile up in Tokyo, and their biggest sponsor - Toyota - became the latest to bail on the event, Tokyo 2020 organizing committee chief, Toshiro Muto has not ruled out a last-minute cancellation of the Olympics, according to CNBC.
When asked at a news conference if the event may be canceled, Muto said he would keep an eye on infection counts and coordinate action with other organizers if necessary.
"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," said Muto, adding "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."
The Olympics were already postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will now be held without spectators. Athletes, meanwhile, will compete in empty venues to minimize spread.
Earlier Tuesday we reported that the number of infected athletes and others associated with the games has hit 71, while new COVID-19 cases in Tokyo hit 1,410 on Saturday, the highest daily level in nearly six months as the Delta variant continues to spread. On Tuesday, 1,387 cases were recorded. Overall, Japan has seen over 840,000 cases and 15,055 deaths.
Muto, a former top financial bureaucrat with close ties to Japan’s ruling party, is known for his careful choice of words, while officials are facing a domestic public angry about coronavirus restrictions and concerned over a possible spike in cases triggered by Games attendees arriving from abroad.
Organizers, for whom International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said cancelling the event had never been an option, have promised to keep the Games “safe and secure”.
But experts see gaps in an Olympic “bubble” that mandates frequent testing and has been designed to limit participants’ movements. -CNBC
"I really want to apologize from my heart for the accumulation of frustrations and concerns that the public has been feeling towards the Olympics," said Seiko Hashimoto, who sits alongside Muto as organizing committee President.
On Thursday, the first indicator of how the Olympics may go will come in the men's soccer tournament - which will be held one day before Friday's opening ceremony as Japan faces off against the South African team which may struggle to field 11 players due to the coronavirus. Meanwhile, two members of Mexico's baseball team tested positive at the hotel before departure for Tokyo and have been isolated - as have the rest of the team pending the results of more tests.
"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," said Kenji Shibuya, former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London.
In a recent poll conducted for the Asahi newspaper, 68% of those asked expressed doubt that the Olympic organizers can control infections, with 55% opposing the games going ahead.