Japanese Emperor Naruhito is “extremely worried” that the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games in Tokyo could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus, the head of the Imperial Palace said on Thursday with the opening of the games a month later.
The Games will bring thousands of foreign athletes, officials, sponsors and journalists to Japan during a pandemic, despite increased attention from experts on the risk of infections and constant public calls for cancellation or further delay.
Yasuhiko Nishimura, the great governor of the Imperial Household Agency, told a news conference that the emperor had expressed concerns.
“His Majesty is extremely concerned about the current state of COVID-19 infections,” Nishimura said. “Although there are voices of concern among the public, I believe (the emperor) is concerned that the holding of the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games … could lead to the spread of infections.”
The delayed Games open on July 23, and the Paralympic Games begin a month later.
Nishimura also called on the organizers to “take all possible anti-virus measures to prevent the spread of infections at the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, where the emperor serves as the Honorary Patron.”
The emperor is the symbol of the state without political power. But like his father, Naruhito has gained widespread popularity and his words are highly respected.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics despite concerns from the public and public health experts.
In addition to their concerns, officials in Izumisano, a city in western Japan that hosts Uganda’s nine-member Olympic training team, said a second member of the team had tested positive for the virus. The first, who is said to have been a coach, was found upon his arrival in Tokyo on Saturday. The rest of the team are isolated in a hotel in Osaka.
Suga eased the third state of emergency in Tokyo, which had been in effect since late April, and moved to less stringent measures, focusing on shorter bar and restaurant hours. But experts said Wednesday that the infections are already returning to the Tokyo area and could accelerate in the coming weeks.
Cabinet Secretary-General Katsunobu Kato, downplaying the impact of the emperor’s concerns, said he believed the great governor had expressed “his personal views.”
Naruhito, 61, also expressed concern about the pandemic in a speech at Monday’s academic awards ceremony: “To overcome this challenge, it is important for all of us, inside and outside Japan, to gather our hearts and work together. . “
According to the plan, before a one-year delay, Naruhito was due to announce the start of the Olympics during the opening ceremony, but details, including his presence at the Games, have yet to be finalized, officials said.