The Olympics, delayed for a year by the pandemic, begin Friday. Spectators are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences allowed at a few outlying sites.
Suga’s government has been criticized for what some say is prioritizing the Olympics over the nation’s health. His public support ratings have fallen to around 30% in recent media surveys, and there has been little festivity ahead of the Games. On Thursday, the director of the opening ceremony, Kentaro Kobayashi, was dismissed over a past Holocaust joke.
In Olympics-related diplomacy, Suga is to meet with U.S. first lady Jill Biden on Thursday and have dinner at the state guest house. Earlier in the day, he was visited by World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
Also Thursday, Emperor Naruhito received a courtesy visit from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach at the Imperial Palace. Naruhito said he hoped all athletes will compete in good health and achieve their best performances. Bach said the Olympic community is doing its best not to pose any risk to the Japanese.
Experts say virus infections among unvaccinated people younger than age 50 are rising sharply.
Japan’s vaccinations began late and slowly, but the pace picked up in May as the government pushed to accelerate the drive before the Olympics, though the pace has since slowed due to a shortage of imported vaccines.
About 23% of Japanese are fully vaccinated, way short of the level believed necessary to have any meaningful effect on reducing the risk in the general population.
Experts warned on Wednesday that infections in Tokyo are likely to continue to worsen in coming weeks.
FILE - In this July 12, 2021, file commuters wearing face masks walk in a passageway during a rush hour at Shinagawa Station in Tokyo. Tokyo recorded 1,979 new COVID-19 cases Thursday, hitting a new six-month high one day before the Olympics are to begin amid growing worry about the worsening infections during the games. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File)
Credit: Eugene Hoshiko
Credit: Eugene Hoshiko
U.S. first lady Jill Biden waves upon arrival at Yokota U.S. Air Force Base, outskirts of Tokyo, Thursday, July 22, 2021. Biden represented the U.S. government at the Tokyo Olympics, to attend the opening ceremony of the Games on Friday, July 23. (Kyodo News via AP)