Bach’s Japan visit postponed as Covid-19 state of emergency extended

IOC President Thomas Bach
IOC President Thomas Bach

A planned visit by International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach to Japan ahead of the Tokyo Games has been postponed, local organizers said on Monday, as the Japanese government extended the coronavirus state of emergency in the region.

Tokyo organizers will re-schedule his visit as soon as possible while monitoring the pandemic situation and other factors, they said.

Both Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga repeatedly vowed to hold the delayed Tokyo Olympics though Japan has struggled to rein in another wave of coronavirus infections.

Suga on Friday announced the 20-day extension of the state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo through May 31, less than two months before the scheduled July 23 start of the delayed Olympics in the Japanese capital.

Tokyo Olympic organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto told reporters on Friday that Bach’s travel to Japan later this month was “very difficult” as the number of new coronavirus infections had not started to decline in the Olympic host city.

Last month, Suga declared the state of emergency in the four prefectures from April 25 to May 11, requesting bars and restaurants refrain from serving alcohol and offering a karaoke service.
The IOC chief was originally planning to participate in a torch relay event in the western city of Hiroshima on May 17, and hold talks with Suga and Hashimoto the following day, but the plan had never been confirmed.

Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki decided on Monday not to hold next week’s torch relay on public roads in his prefecture due to surging infections. The announcement comes a day after Hiroshima reported a record 195 new cases, marking the highest daily tally for the second day in a row.

In the neighbouring prefecture of Okayama, Governor Ryuta Ibaragi announced torchbearers would not run on public roads next week, either. His decision comes two days after Okayama confirmed a record 189 new infections.

Osaka prefecture and Okinawa’s main island did not hold the torch relay on public roads, while the western prefectures of Yamaguchi and Hyogo said they would not do so later this month, either.
Fukuoka prefecture, another hot spot, cancelled the torch relay this week, but will only hold a lighting ceremony.

The relay for the Olympics launched in the north-eastern prefecture of Fukushima on March 25 without an audience due to the pandemic. It initially planned to be carried in turns by about 10,000 torchbearers across Japan’s 47 prefectures.

The relay culminates in the lighting of the Olympic cauldron at the opening ceremony of the Games on July 23.

During the torch relay in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima in late April, six local officials were infected with the coronavirus though all of them were wearing masks.

Japan has so far confirmed more than 640,000 cases and some 10,800 Covid-19 related deaths, by far the highest number in East Asia.

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