Anxiety builds in Japan as Tokyo Olympics draw closer

Anxiety builds in Japan as Tokyo Olympics draw closer

When Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics hosting rights at a meeting in Buenos Aires Argentina nearly eight years ago, members of the Japanese delegation hugged one another and screamed with joy. Some were overwhelmed that they shed tears of joy.

At 5 a.m in Tokyo Japan, a group of 1,200 dignitaries and athletes at a convention hall erupted into cheers.

After a year-long delay, occasioned by the outbreak of coronavirus, the long-awaited tournament is fast approaching, with the opening ceremony coming up in just two months from now.

But in Japan, the excitement of eight years ago seems to be fading away, as anxiety slowly sets in. As COVID-19 continues to spread both domestically and around the world, recent polls in Japan indicate that between 60 percent and 80 percent of residents believe the Tokyo Olympics should not be held as scheduled this summer.

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A petition calling for the Games to be cancelled has generated more than 350,000 signatures. And criticism among members of the Japanese medical community is growing louder by the week. 

With case numbers surging and vaccination efforts lagging, the Japanese government has declared a state of emergency in a large swath of the country including Tokyo and extended it through the end of May.

And there are lingering questions in Japan about how the country can effectively fight COVID-19 while also welcoming thousands of athletes, coaches and media members from around the world to Tokyo.

On Wednesday, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said the Games will be held safely despite Japan’s COVID-19 surge.

According to official data, Japan is among countries lagging behind in terms of vaccination with only 1 percent of the population so far inoculated.

The country has registered nearly 700,000 coronavirus cases, about 12,000 deaths and at least 615,000 recoveries, according to Worldometer.

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