New Year’s Day is the biggest holiday on Japan’s calendar, but this year’s festivities have been subdued due to a recent surge in COVID-19 infections and by stay-at-home calls from the government.
Despite the gloom, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga released a written statement on Friday expressing confidence that the “Olympic Games will be held this summer.”
Even as Tokyo, in recent days, reported for the first time over 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases, Suga expressed hope that, by going ahead, the Games could serve as a “symbol of global solidarity.”
Japan is currently responding to the discovery of a new variant of COVID-19, which has prompted a ban on non-residential arrivals.
While Japan has fared better than most – with approximately 230,000 cases and just under 3,400 deaths – the Olympics are a half year or so away, with the opening ceremony scheduled for July 23, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24.
The Island nation is also battling rising Olympic-related costs stemming from the pandemic. The $7.3 billion US that organizers first cited when Tokyo won the bid in 2013 is all but fantasy now. Some experts believe the costs are much higher, with a recent University of Oxford study pegging them closer to $25 billion.
Despite the optimism of organizers and IOC officials, the public remains skeptical about hosting a mega, multi-sport event featuring more than 11,000 athletes from around the world.
According to polling in December, by the public broadcaster NHK, 63 per cent of respondents said the Games should be postponed again or cancelled. Just 27 per cent said they should take place.