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Anti-Olympic protesters flock in front of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's office, Tokyo, Japan, 29 July 2021 (Photo: Reuters/Androniki Christodoulou).

Author: Ben Ascione, Waseda University

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s decision to hold the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games under the one-year postponement plan inherited from the Abe administration revolved around his need to face a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) leadership election in September and a lower-house election by October. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, proceeding with the Games was intended to protect Suga, who lacks a factional base in the LDP, from the threat of internal challengers.

The critical question was what level of infection control and vaccinations were needed to safely hold the Games without stretching Tokyo’s medical system? And what sort of measures would prevent spill over infections from the ‘Olympic bubble’? When pressed for details the Suga government insisted that Japan would hold a ‘safe and secure’ Games, evaded establishing definitive criteria for success and moved the goal posts when new information came to light.

The head of the Tokyo Medical Association, Haruo Ozaki, suggested in May that Tokyo needed to bring daily cases below 100 to safely hold the Games — advice that was ignored. A simulation presented at a Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee expert roundtable in June predicted that infections in Tokyo would increase to about 1000 per day in late August if the Games went ahead, compared with 800 a day if they were postponed or cancelled. A Tokyo Metropolitan Government monitoring meeting in July estimated that daily infections would reach 2400 by 11 August. These two scenarios were thought to be acceptable.

On vaccinations, Japan was too slow to reach anywhere near herd immunity before the Games. It was the slowest among the G7 to procure vaccines while its rollout …continue reading