Two months before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Tokyo residents, enduring their third state of emergency amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, were torn over whether to support the holding of the Games.
Many fear a public health disaster, where hospitals and healthcare workers, straining to treat coronavirus patients and to inoculate the elderly, get overloaded. Japan lags far behind other advanced countries on vaccinations, with only about three percent of the population inoculated once, according to government data.
“We need to send all of our medical resources and manpower to various places. We need people to be inoculated with vaccines and work at the Olympics but in order to do that, we can’t stop regular medical examinations at local clinics like mine. If we do, the medical system will collapse,” said Doctor Kazuhiro Miura who would rather the Olympics be cancelled.
The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, representing about 6,000 primary care doctors, has also thrown its weight behind calls to cancel the Tokyo Olympics saying hospitals were already overwhelmed.
A new highly infectious variant of the coronavirus, first identified in India and named B.1.617, has also stoked concerns after spreading rapidly in various countries that had seemingly had the virus under control just earlier this year.
Western Japan has been particularly hard hit from a more-infectious strain first discovered in Britain, while Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike sounded the alarm in May about the discovery of the Indian variant in the capital.
“If we hold the Olympics, there is no doubt, variants will enter (Japan),” said yoga instructor, Keiko Yamamura. “The schedule (for vaccinations) has been speeding up and we can receive it sooner, but it’s still delayed until the end of the year which means there’s a possibility a (COVID-19) disaster will occur,” she added.
With foreign spectators banned from attending the Games and a decision on domestic spectators still pending, many Tokyo residents also do not see the economic benefits of hosting the Olympics. Some businesses expect the sporting event to further hit their bottom line if Japan continues to impose a state of emergency.
“It’ll lead to shutting down the dance school, which means I’ll lose work and it will just bring problems. I don’t think we should hold it,” said dance school instructor Saori Yamashita.
Opinion polls show a majority of Japanese residents want the Games cancelled, despite the government having vowed to hold a “safe and secure” Olympics.
Japanese tea ceremony master Sosei Ajioka said that while the Games remain an important platform to showcase the work of world-class athletes, “holding the Olympics as an exception, where many people’s movements are forcibly restricted under a state of emergency, is difficult at the moment.”
Meanwhile, sports fans like soba and udon restaurant owner Ryu Ishihara just wanted to feel the excitement of the world’s biggest sporting event.
“I want to watch, hear the results, and cheer because I like sports. But I don’t know how (they will hold it),” he said sombrely.
For sushi chef, Takashi Yonehana, holding the Olympics will mean saving the reputation of Japan in the eyes of the international community.
“I don’t want it to be cancelled, I want it to go ahead because we will be seen as a country that has cancelled the Olympics around the world, I think in the next 100 years.”
The Tokyo Olympics are due to start on July 23.