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About 80% Of Japanese Think Olympic Games Should Be Canceled Or Postponed, Poll Shows

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Japan, public opinion is turning against holding the Tokyo Olympics. Now, the games were postponed last summer. Now, with 155 days to go, more than half of Japan's population is under a state of emergency to stop a surge in COVID-19 cases, and vaccinations have not yet started. But as NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports, the games' organizers insist the games are not going to be canceled.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: By international standards, Japan's case numbers are not high, and the state of emergency is not draconian. Residents are just politely requested to avoid unnecessary outings. But experts warn that the month-long emergency may need to be extended if it doesn't flatten the curve, and some hospitals have run out of beds. Dr. Jin Kuramochi, who runs a clinic outside Tokyo, accuses Japan's government of putting politics and economics before people's health.

JIN KURAMOCHI: (Through interpreter) They're pushing the games forward without really understanding the critical situation our health care system is in. They're not beating the virus, and they are not ready for the Olympics.

KUHN: Vaccinations won't start in Japan until next month at earliest. It's not exactly clear who, if anyone, involved in the Olympics will be required or able to get vaccinated. Postponing the Olympics, meanwhile, has caused the cost of holding the games to jump by 22% to around $15.5 billion - by some estimates, the priciest games on record. Economic journalist Tomoyuki Isoyama says the government is counting not only on recouping some of the money they've sunk into roads and stadiums, but also on boosting the overall economy.

TOMOYUKI ISOYAMA: (Through interpreter) The government is trying to make tourism an economic pillar of the nation. And the Olympics was supposed to be a driving force behind it, but now this is impossible.

KUHN: A recent poll by national broadcaster NHK found that roughly 80% of Japanese think the games should be canceled or postponed. One of the games' most vocal critics is author Ryu Honma. He compares the current situation to the World War II battle of Imphal in northeast India in 1944. It's a conflict that's infamous in Japan for the recklessness of its military commanders.

RYU HONMA: (Through interpreter) Everyone knew it could never succeed but kept pushing anyway. Eventually, more than 50,000 soldiers were killed, and the commander took no responsibility. This operation is well known in Japan. The Tokyo Olympics is just like it.

KUHN: Honma predicts that Japan will have to cancel the games before March 25, when the Olympic torch relay is scheduled to begin.

HONMA: (Through interpreter) Officials will continue to insist that the Olympics will be held, but they will secretly make a decision and then suddenly announce that the games have been canceled.

KUHN: Recently, cracks in the official facade of confidence have begun to show. The chief of the Tokyo Games organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, admitted in a recent speech that he can't afford to publicly express any doubt about the fate of the games.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

YOSHIRO MORI: (Through interpreter) If I begin to feel even slightly unsure at this stage, it will affect everything. We should definitely push ahead, as that is the only option for us.

KUHN: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga argues that holding the Tokyo Olympics will send the message that mankind has triumphed over the coronavirus. If that triumph doesn't come quickly enough, that message may be left to the host of next year's winter games to send. That host is Beijing, China.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILOUS' "DUSK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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