Olympics chief vows to minimise virus risk to Japan

Giant Olympic rings at the waterfront area at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan, August 6, 2020. /VCG

Olympics chief Thomas Bach pledged Wednesday “not to bring any risk” to Japan with the Games, seeking to reassure a skeptical 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 percent of all the residents in the Olympic Village and almost 100 percent 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 percent 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 has consistently expressed apprehension about Tokyo 2020, which was postponed by a year due to the pandemic and will finally open on July 23.

Organizers 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.