Japanese Emperor Naruhito appears concerned about the possibility the Olympic Games could cause the coronavirus to spread as feared by many in the public, Kyodo News quoted an official at the Imperial Household Agency (IHA) as saying.
“The emperor is extremely worried about the current status of coronavirus infections,” IHA Grand Steward Yasuhiko Nishimura told a regular news conference on Thursday, according to Kyodo.
“Given the public’s worries, he appears to be concerned about whether the event would cause infections to spread.”
Emperor Naruhito is Honorary Patron for the Tokyo 2020 Games, which are due to start on July 23 after being delayed for a year by the coronavirus pandemic.
The emperor has no political power but is widely respected as a figurehead, although it is rare for him to make public statements.
Many Japanese remain skeptical about the possibility of holding even a scaled-down Games safely during the pandemic. organizers have excluded foreign spectators and limited the number of domestic ones.
Alcohol, high-fives and talking loudly will also be banned.
Japan has largely avoided the kind of explosive coronavirus outbreaks that have devastated other countries, but its vaccine roll-out was initially slow and the medical system has been pushed to the brink in some places.
On Thursday, advisers to the Tokyo metropolitan government warned that people were moving around more after the government lifted a state of emergency in the capital and elsewhere this week, and that could cause infections to creep up.
The medical system remained stretched to the limit as health workers were also busy vaccinating the public, one expert said.
They also warned of signs that more infectious variants could spread rapidly in coming weeks and months.
“Although we’re now in a ‘quasi’ state of emergency, the situation is still very dire,” Tokyo Vice Governor Mitsuchika Tarao told reporters, standing in for Governor Yuriko Koike, who was hospitalized this week to recover from fatigue.
Earlier in the week, the World Health Organization’s head of emergencies program, Mike Ryan, noted that infection rates in Japan had been falling, and said they compared favorably to other countries that were hosting big events.