Tokyo Olympics: How Japan’s coronavirus failures have left a dark cloud hanging over the Games

As calls mount for the Tokyo Olympics to be cancelled or postponed, the Japanese government's mishandling of the coronavirus crisis has come into sharp focus.

Between 60 and 80 per cent of Japanese people want the Tokyo Olympics to be cancelled or postponed, according to four surveys in May. They point to the rising number of Covid-19 cases and the government’s failure to deal with the crisis.

An editorial on May 26 in Asahi, one of Japan’s most prestigious newspapers and an official partner of the Tokyo Olympics, urged Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to cancel the Games. Mainichi, another major paper and official partner to the Games, along with 15 other local newspapers, have also published critical editorials in recent weeks.

They have taken issue with the comments of senior International Olympic Committee officials. On May 22, IOC chief Thomas Bach said: “We have to make some sacrifices to make this possible.” A day earlier, when a reporter asked John Coates, an IOC vice-president, if the Games would go ahead even if a state of emergency was in force in Japan, he replied, “Absolutely, yes.”

Renowned Japanese publishers placed a full-page advert in three major Japanese newspapers, Nikkei, Yomiuri and Asahi. The message – “No vaccine, no medicine. Should we fight with bamboo spears? We will be killed by politics” – was accompanied by an image of high-school girls practising how to fight against US soldiers with a bamboo spear during World War II. 

The ad drew on a tragic wartime memory. On receiving the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945 – calling for the surrender of all Japanese forces – the Japanese government failed to make the life-or-death decision promptly, despite it being clear that defeat was certain. Instead, the Japanese imperial army continued to believe there was a chance to win through spiritual strength.

Are the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics going ahead?

Even as the Japanese cabinet was engaged in unproductive discussions, US bombers dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9, resulting in the deaths of over 210,000 people or 36 per cent of the total population of the two cities.

Today, Japan’s government has been unable to control the pandemic. It delayed announcing the first state of emergency until April 7, 2020, although many countries had gone into lockdown in March, because it could not decide whether the Olympics should be postponed.

On July 22, two months after the state emergency was lifted, the government launched its “Go-To Travel” campaign. Under the scheme, the Japanese government began to cover 50 per cent of visitors’ travel costs, and local governments gave travellers coupons equivalent to 15 per cent of the travel cost.

Since then, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has surged. However, the government did not halt the travel scheme until December 28.

A second state of emergency was announced on January 13, which ended on March 21. Now, Japan is in its third state of emergency, which started on April 25 and was expected to end on May 11, but has been extended to the end of May.

US travel advisory and surging Covid-19 cases in Japan fail to deter Tokyo Olympics organisersUS travel advisory and surging Covid-19 cases in Japan fail to deter Tokyo Olympics organisers

- South China Morning Post