As reported by Japanese publication Nikkei citing a Government source, 40 of the 500 towns registered to welcome international athletes and personnel have withdrawn their duties, which would see athletes based there for training camps and cultural exchanges ahead of the Games. Their concern is that it will overburden the already stretched medical resources amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
The reluctance of some towns to host visiting athletes, normally a source of pride for communities outside the host city, is the latest sign of deep unease in Japan over the scheduling of the Games in the middle of a pandemic.
The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
were postponed last year and are currently scheduled to take place from July 23 to August 8 despite a surge in infections and a state of emergency in the host city. Other regions scheduled to host athletes have also been hard hit, including the eastern prefecture of Chiba where the U.S. track and field team had been due to have a training camp. The prefecture reported on Wednesday that the team had cancelled those plans.
Some municipalities have expressed concern about how Japan's medical system would cope if the Games turned into a superspreader event, concerns shared by the country's top medical adviser. "It is extremely important to evaluate how much medical care will be burdened during the (Olympic) period," medical adviser Shigeru Omi told lawmakers on Thursday, repeating concerns he has raised since April. The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday said it supported Japanese measures to counter COVID-19 and was confident the Tokyo Olympics would be a "historic" event.
Public opposition to the Games is growing as Japan struggles to contain the fourth wave of infections which is pushing medical resources to the brink. The government has been criticised for not locking down the economy hard enough and bungling the vaccine rollout, with only 2.8% of the population inoculated, the lowest rate among wealthy countries.
To forestall a virus outbreak during the event, Japan is preparing to offer vaccinations to about 2,500 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and support staff, using donated shots. Japan reported more than 7,000 new infections on Wednesday, with 969 cases in Tokyo. About 700 new cases were confirmed on Thursday in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido where the Olympic marathon will take place, media reported, marking a record high.