TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Emperor Naruhito appears “concerned” that the Olympics could trigger the spread of the coronavirus, as many people fear, Kyodo News said, citing an agency official at home Imperial (IHA).
“The emperor is extremely concerned about the current state of coronavirus infections,” IHA Grand Steward Yasuhiko Nishimura said Thursday at a regular press conference, according to Kyodo. “Given the public’s concerns (about the Games), it seems to be wondering if the event would cause the spread of infections.”
Emperor Naruhito is honorary patron of the Tokyo 2020 Games, which are due to begin on July 23 after being delayed for a year by the coronavirus pandemic.
The emperor has no political power but is widely respected as a leading figure in the country, although it is rare for him to make public statements.
Many Japanese remain skeptical about the possibility of hosting even a small-scale Games safely during a pandemic. The organizers have excluded foreign spectators and limited the number of locals who can visit the venues. Alcohol, high fives and loud talking will also be prohibited.
Japan has largely avoided the type of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that have devastated other countries, but vaccine rollout was initially slow and the medical system pushed to the brink in some places.
More than 50% of Japanese seniors have now received their first doses of the vaccine, public broadcaster NHK reported Thursday, citing government data.
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Lincoln Feast.)