Two months before the Olympic Games, Japan is going through the most delicate moment in terms of public health since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Government officials and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, however, insisted that the competition be safe, with measures such as banning foreign spectators during the competition and daily athlete checks. We just have to convince the population.
As Japan progresses slowly, with the worst Covid-19 vaccination rate among the G7 countries, the group of the world’s major economies, the government has come under pressure from public opinion. According to the latest research, their support for the Olympics has declined significantly.
A survey published by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper last week showed that 83% of Japanese respondents said they believed the contest should be canceled or postponed for the second time, repeating the fact that last year, which until it was unprecedented. Never before have the Olympics been postponed, although three (1916, 1940 and 1944) have been canceled due to the world wars.
The survey points out that 43% say Japan should cancel, 40% who prefer a further postponement and only 14% who believe the Games should take place from July 23. In a poll last month, the percentages were 35%, 34% and 28%, respectively.
The same survey also found that 73% of those polled were unconvinced of Suga’s claims that it is possible to keep the Olympic Games schedule safe – a lack of support that, for Paulo Watanabe, doctor of international relations at Unesp and professor at the Universidade São Judas Tadeu, represents a political risk for the stability of the Japanese Prime Minister within the government.
“For a Japanese politician, public rejection is very risky because it affects the party’s results in future Diet elections. [nome dado ao Parlamento do Japão]”, explains the expert.” If Covid gets out of hand before or during the Games, Suga’s situation will be very uncertain in power. Confidence and certainty that the Games will run safely has become Suga’s main or only bet, which could cost him the job. “
Even among the leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party (PLD), the legend of Suga lacks unity regarding the maintenance of the Olympics. Measures taken to stem the spread of coronavirus cases, in particular the declaration of a state of emergency at the regional level, are also not unanimous, and experts have recommended tighter restrictions across the country.
Currently, of Japan’s 47 provinces, 20 have received a stage 4 classification by the Ministry of Health, meaning they have recorded an “explosive increase in new cases.” Of these, ten are in a state of emergency, a legal status that allows regional leaders to impose measures such as the closure of establishments and restrictions on mobility.
Suga declared an emergency on April 23 in the provinces of Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo. The measure was supposed to last until May 11, but ended up being extended until the end of this month and extended to Aichi and Fukuoka. Then the same resource was applied to the provinces of Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima, and on Friday (21) Okinawa also entered the list, which is expected to remain until at least June 20.
The main goal is to reduce coronavirus infections. Japan recorded on May 13 the highest moving average of new daily cases (6,460) since the start of the pandemic and, five days later, the highest average of deaths (108.29).
Previous peaks were 6,455 cases on January 11 and 97 deaths on February 6, followed by steep drops through early March and, again, record highs through to the most critical times of this month. .
Although they are showing a downward trend last week, the indices worry specialists, especially amid the slow pace of vaccination. Only 4.37% (5.53 million) of the population have received at least one dose of immunizing agents against the coronavirus. Those who received two doses and are more protected against the disease are only 1.95% (2.46 million). The indices put Japan behind other G7 members in the pace of vaccination and even behind Brazil, which applied two doses to 8.57% of the population.
Watanabe lacked a clear policy on vaccination and the need for isolation, and the Japanese government did not approve vaccines in advance – contradicting the political profile of Suga, traditionally seen as a strategist and a pragmatic leader. The country approved the use of the immunizer developed by the companies Pfizer and BioNTech on February 14 and launched the vaccination campaign four days later.
According to the professor, the Japanese are very suspicious of vaccines and Pfizer’s vaccine approval process has generated varying levels of uncertainty about its effectiveness. What matters in favor of vaccination, however, is the fact that the population is traditionally highly disciplined with collective well-being – a fundamental characteristic for sanitary and epidemiological control measures to achieve their goals.
Authorities also approved vaccines produced by Moderna and AstraZeneca on Friday, although the latter will see its application postponed due to reports of adverse reactions. The goal, according to Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who is leading the response to the pandemic, is to vaccinate at least all elderly people, a significant portion of the Japanese population, by the end of July – while, at least in theory, the world will follow the Olympics.