A security guard walks in front of the Olympic rings on May 9, in Tokyo. Eugene Hoshiko/Associated Press

As domestic opposition to the Tokyo Olympics continues to intensify, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshide Suga extended the state of emergency covering Tokyo and eight other prefectures, triggered by escalating coronavirus cases until June 20, about a month before the Games are scheduled to begin.

The decision came a day after Japan saw more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases, a mark it has surpassed every day since mid-April.

A lower state of alert in five prefectures also will be extended into the second half of June.

The International Olympic Committee, motivated by enormous financial stakes, has remained steadfast it will hold the Tokyo 2020 Olympics one year after the pandemic postponed them. On Thursday, IOC President Thomas Bach called Tokyo the most prepared Olympic host in the history of the event and told athletes, “Come with full confidence to Tokyo and get ready.”

Dick Pound, the IOC’s longest-serving member, said Thursday in a telephone interview: “We’re now within 60 days, and if there was going to be a cancellation, that would have been decided earlier than this. We’re in a mode where the Games are going on. All of the operational steps to make that happen are underway.”

Even if a state of emergency is still in place in Tokyo on July 23, the day of the opening ceremony, Pound said the Games “could certainly go ahead, because the state of emergency would be sort of surrounding the bubble that is being created, and the bubble has been very carefully planned.”

As the Games have drawn closer, Japanese citizens have rallied against the Games. In a poll released May 18, 83 percent of Japanese people opposed holding the Games. This week, the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s most influential newspapers and a sponsor of the Tokyo Olympics, published he an editorial headlined, “Prime Minister Suga, please call off the Olympics this summer.”

On Thursday, Japan Doctors Union Chairman Naoto Ueyama warned that the Games could create an “Olympic strain” of the coronavirus. He echoed the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, who earlier this month voiced their recommendation to cancel the Games in an open letter to Suga.

“It is dangerous to hold the Olympics here in Tokyo this July,” Ueyama said.

Amid the pushback, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said earlier this month that the organization takes note of public opinion but also conducts internal polling and doesn’t let the external criticism drive decisions.

“Once everybody understands that the Games are going on, and the decision to go ahead is based on the best possible science that’s available to everybody and we get started, I think a lot of the naysayers will come around,” Pound said, “and I think be secretly happy that they were saved from a precipitous decision to cancel something that need not be canceled.”

Just 2.3 percent of Japan’s population of 125 million is fully vaccinated, giving it one of the lowest rates among developed countries. The IOC expects the majority of those in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated. It’s unclear how and if the IOC is keeping track of athletes and staffers who have been vaccinated, but Adams said, “it’s a large and growing number.”

The availability of a vaccine and a year spent gaining insight into how to control the spread of the virus offer optimism heading into the Games, said Tara Kirk Sell, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in swimming whose work as a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University focuses on pandemic preparedness and response. She said it’s important for athletes to buy into the common safety protocols, such as masking and social distancing, and that information needs to be communicated well across numerous languages inside the Olympic Village.

“We’ve come a long way in the last year and a half and also since the Olympics were postponed,” Sell said. “So I do think actually that the Games can be held successfully and safely, but obviously it’s going to take a lot of work.”

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on Japan’s economy, and its dining and travel industries have been particularly hard hit by social distancing measures. Japan’s unemployment rate rose to 2.8 percent in April, up 0.2 percent from the previous month. There have been 1,500 company closures since the start of the pandemic, according to Teikoku Databank, a credit research firm.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control issued a travel advisory telling Americans not to travel to Japan because of “a high level of COVID-19 in the country.”

The Games’ organizing committee announced in March that overseas spectators will be barred from attending. With unwavering confidence that the Games will take place as scheduled, Pound said, “the only ball up in the air at the moment is the extent to which live spectators will be allowed in the competition venues.” He anticipates that decision will be made by the end of June.

Masked fans inside a venue would not pose a significant health risk, Sell said, but the “ancillary activities,” such as transportation to the event or eating together afterward, prompt more concern to the community.

“I think fans are a little bit more of a luxury,” Sell said. “I just focus on having the Games at all. … I think that’s the focus: to make sure the athletes, the coaches and the staff are safe.”

The Washington Post’s Julia Mio Inuma contributed from Tokyo.


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