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CANCEL Tokyo Olympics!

By Dr RAJARAM PANDA
Last updated on: May 28, 2021 11:30 IST
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As an admirer of Japan for close to half a century, I care for Japan and expect Suga to respect the sentiment of his people and cancel the Olympics without further delay, says Rajaram Panda.

IMAGE: An anti-Olympics protest in Tokyo, May 17, 2021. Photograph: Naoki Ogura/Reuters
 

When the world is battling the coronavirus, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga remains unconcerned about the risk it poses to his people if the Olympics are held in Tokyo in July.

The political leadership in Japan is under the false impression that hosting the extravaganza will bring glory to the country.

But when the pandemic is yet to be brought under control, and with several COVID-19 protocols in place, it makes absolutely no sense to put the health of the Japanese people at risk.

A major Japanese newspaper, the liberal Asahi Shimbun and an official sponsor of the Games, in an editorial on May 26, called for the cancellation of the Games, warning that not doing so soonest could pose a threat to public health and will place additional strain on the country's health services.

The Asahi Shimbun editorial urged Suga to 'calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide on the cancellation of the event this summer'.

Currently, an emergency is in place in Tokyo and other prefectures until the end of May and there is every possibility that it will be extended further.

IMAGE: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks about COVID-19, May 14, 2021. Photograph: Yuichi Yamazaki/Pool via/Reuters

It was surprising that International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates, with little knowledge of the ground realities, observed that the Games can be held under a state of emergency.

Coates should remember that Japanese law does not empower the government with enforcing authority and therefore declaration of an emergency in Japan is quite different from other democracies.

Coates should also be aware that popular sentiment in Japan wants the Olympics to be cancelled as the government's priority should be to protect the lives, health and livelihoods of Japanese citizens.

In a country where over 65,000 centenarians, besides a huge number of senior citizens, live, the government ought to make strengthening the health care infrastructure a priority rather than investing time in Olympics preparation.

With less than seven weeks for the Games to begin, there is no guarantee that the infections will be brought under control. The emergence of COVID-19 variants is also worrying.

Japan started the inoculation process late and recipients are still limited to senior citizens.

Acquiring herd immunity takes time and certainly wil not be possible by the time the Games begin.

More than 90,000 athletes and supporting staff will converge in Tokyo for the Olympics.

There is always the possibility that even with frequent testing and isolation, some athletes and support staff might carry the virus.

No one can guarantee that those from other countries who gather in Tokyo for the Games will exercise self-restraint.

It would be foolhardy to compare the Olympics with other international events that might have been organised successfully under similar circumstances because of the Olympics' scale alone.

IMAGE: Lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya shows off a placard at a news conference after he submitted a petition calling for the Olympics to be cancelled to Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, May 14, 2021. Photograph: Naoki Ogura/Reuters

Assuming the Games are held defying public disapproval, can the Suga administration assure the Japanese people that everything shall be okay given the enormity of the virus that poses risks to the health of the citizenry?

Suga must call a meeting with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Tokyo Olympics Organising Committee President Seiko Hashimoto and take a collective decision to cancel the Games and not go by the false illusion that the Olympics shall prove mankind's triumph over COVID-19.

True, Japan could lose $16 billion (1.8 trillion yen) if the Games are cancelled.

But prominent economist Takahide Kiuchi warns that the loss of $16 billion would be dwarfed by the economic hit from emergency measures imposed if the Olympics turn out to be a Covid super-spreader.

According to Kiuchi, Japan lost an estimated 6.4 trillion yen when the first nationwide state of emergency was declared last spring.

If the Olympics are held Kiuchi warns it could trigger the spread of infections and necessitate another emergency, resulting in an economic loss that would be greater than the Games' cancellation.

The direct loss from a cancellation would be equivalent to a third of a per cent of nominal gross domestic product in fiscal 2020, Kiuchi adds.

IMAGE: Protesters demand the Games' cancellation outside a building housing the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games organising committee, February 12, 2021. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Since the start of the pandemic, Japan has reported 725,536 cases and 12,497 deaths as of May 27, 2021.

Japan has been slow in vaccine rollout, which is just picking up speed.

Doctors and health staff fear that if the Olympics are held, Japan's already stretched medical resources would be redirected to the event, thereby exposing the vulnerability of its citizens, many in the senior citizens category.

Will Suga listen to the sound advice of Professor Michael Baker of New Zealand's Otago University, who says there is no justification for holding the Games during a pandemic, and the decision to go ahead would be 'absurd' and cost lives.

Suga will be digging his political grave and dent his Liberal Democratic Party's future if he stubbornly goes ahead with the Games.

As an admirer of Japan for close to half a century, I care for Japan and expect Suga to respect the sentiment of his people and cancel the Olympics without further delay.

Dr Rajaram Panda is Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, and former ICCR Chair Professor at Reitaku University, Japan.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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