TOKYO: Olympics chief Thomas Bach pledged on Wednesday “not to bring any risk” to Japan with the Games, seeking to reassure a sceptical public as virus cases surge just over a week before Tokyo 2020 begins.
Fans have been banned from Olympic events in the capital, which is under emergency restrictions to curb rising infection numbers that on Wednesday hit highs not seen since January.
As more athletes arrive in Japan and move into the Olympic Village, International Olympic Committee chief Bach promised a safe summer Games.
“We are making all our efforts and the Japanese people have all our commitment to contribute in the best way to fight this virus and not to bring any risk to the Japanese people,” Bach told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
Bach said “85 per cent of all the residents in the Olympic Village and almost 100 per cent of the IOC members and staff coming here to Tokyo arrive vaccinated.
“This is why I’d like to humbly ask the Japanese people to warmly welcome the athletes from all around the world who have overcome, like the Japanese people, so many challenges.”
Japan has seen a less severe Covid-19 outbreak than many other countries, with around 15,000 deaths overall, but experts warn another wave driven by more infectious variants could stretch medical facilities.
Around 20 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated, and Tokyo’s emergency measures, mainly limiting alcohol sales and restaurant opening hours, will be in place throughout the Games.
On Wednesday there were 1,149 new cases recorded in Tokyo, the highest since January 22. In opinion polls, the Japanese public have consistently expressed apprehension about Tokyo 2020, which was postponed by a year due to the pandemic and will finally open on July 23.
Organisers announced the decision to ban spectators from all but a tiny number of Olympic events last week, following repeated warnings from experts about the risk of crowds gathering as infections rise.
DOUBTS ‘EVERY DAY’
In an exchange with major global press agencies later on Wednesday, Bach said his team had strived to maintain a confident stance after Tokyo 2020 was postponed in March last year.
“In these 15 months, we had doubts every day. This was a situation of high uncertainty,” he said.
“Quite honestly, it was way, way more complex than we thought it would be when we agreed on this postponement.”
But by projecting confidence and taking decisions seriously, the IOC kept other parties on side, from athletes to sports federations and local authorities, Bach said.
“Only because they all stayed on board, we can be here now, nine days before the opening of the Games.” The US softball team moved into the Olympic Village on Wednesday, local media said, the day after the compound opened without any of the welcome ceremonies or media opportunities often seen at the Games. — AFP