An online petition calling for the Tokyo Olympics to be cancelled has garnered almost 200,000 signatures in the past few days, as public concerns mount over holding the Games during a pandemic.
With less than three months to go before the start of the summer Olympics, already postponed for a year due to the coronavirus, questions still remain how Tokyo can hold the global event and keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe from COVID-19.
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In two days since its launch, an online campaign called "Stop Tokyo Olympics" has gathered more than 187,000 signatures, nearing its 200,000 goal and underscoring public concerns over holding the massive sporting event in Japan's capital.
Battling a fourth wave of the pandemic and struggling with a sluggish vaccination campaign, the Japanese government is seeking to extend states of emergency in Tokyo and three other areas until the end of May, the economy minister said on Friday.
Opinion polls in Japan have found a majority of the public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on July 23.
"We strongly call for the prevention of spread of coronavirus and protection of lives and livelihood by using available resources to stop the Olympics," Kenji Utsunomiya, the online petition organiser, wrote on his website.
Utsunomiya is a lawyer who has run several times for Tokyo governor.
But organisers have repeatedly said the Games will go ahead, unveiling detailed COVID-19 protocols for athletes and officials.
Japan's staggering call on 2021 Olympic fans
Overseas fans will be banned from travelling to Japan for this year's Tokyo Olympic Games, according to reports from the country's local media.
The bombshell call comes in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with fears an influx of visitors could potentially lead to a spike in virus cases across the country.
Kyodo News said the government had concluded it was "not possible" to allow spectators from abroad to attend the Tokyo Games, which are already delayed by a year because of the pandemic.
This was due to "concerns among the Japanese public over the coronavirus and the fact that more contagious variants have been detected in many countries", Kyodo said, citing unnamed officials.
The Asahi Shimbun daily said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had asked Japan to make exceptions for overseas guests linked to sponsors, and that the government was considering the request.
Despite a spike in infections this winter, Japan has had a comparatively small outbreak overall, with about 8,300 deaths.
It has avoided imposing blanket lockdowns, but the Tokyo area is currently under a state of emergency that requests bars and restaurants close early.
Tokyo 2020 organisers have stressed that public safety will be "top priority" at the Olympics, which are due to start on July 23.
Around 900,000 tickets have reportedly been sold outside Japan.
Additional reporting by Andrew Reid
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