Japan’s Emperor May Have Concerns Olympics Could Lead to Virus Spike

Japanese Emperor Naruhito may have concerns the Olympics could cause coronavirus infections to rise, Kyodo News reported, linking the Imperial Household to a politically sensitive subject about a month before the games begin.

Kyodo cited the head of the Imperial Household Agency, Yasuhiko Nishimura, as telling reporters Thursday at a regular briefing he believes the emperor is worried about whether the Olympics would lead to an increase in coronavirus infections, given concerns that have been voiced by the public.

The comments from the agency are the first of their kind on the divisive subject and they come as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s government is trying to win public support for the Olympics that start on July 23 amid worries the global sports spectacle could cause a superspreader event.

Suga, who has has repeatedly said the Olympics can be held safely, faces a party leadership vote in September and if there are major problems with the games under his watch, he could join a long list of short-serving Japanese prime ministers.

Naruhito didn’t directly speak of the concerns, the Asahi newspaper quoted Nishimura as saying.

The Olympics, delayed by a year because of the pandemic, appear to be on track even though surveys show large numbers of the Japanese public want to call off or delay the event. While Japan still has by far the fewest recorded Covid-19 cases among the Group of Seven countries, the spread of more contagious variants has fueled concerns in a nation where vaccinations have been slow.

Plans are being considered to have Naruhito, who serves as an honorary patron of the Tokyo Olympics, speak at the opening ceremony, Kyodo said.

Japan’s postwar constitution stipulates the emperor “shall not have powers related to government,” and in practice, this also has meant avoiding comments touching on subjects that are politically or socially sensitive.

In February, at a news conference to coincide with his 61st birthday, Naruhito said he was thankful for the “perseverance and strength of the people” in Japan in the face of the pandemic, Kyodo reported.

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