Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga dismissed concerns over the record high Covid-19 numbers on Tuesday amid dissent over the country’s hosting of the Summer Olympic Games.
Suga said the new infection rates are “not a problem” for the Olympics, and that people in Tokyo should work from home to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.
Tokyo recorded 2,848 Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, the highest figure since the pandemic started.
Olympics organizers reported several positive cases of athletes and staff working at the event, including a Dutch tennis player and 12 security guards, according to Jiji News Agency.
Tokyo declared a fourth state of emergency this month, which is set to run until the end of the Olympics.
“It’s the Delta variant,” Kenji Shibuya, a former director of the Institute for Population Health at King’s College London, told Reuters in reference to the swift recent spike.
“The government has sent signals that people are supposed to stay home at the same time they celebrate the Games. It’s a totally inconsistent message,” he added.
Tuesday’s record numbers pose another threat to the PM’s results in the upcoming general election, set to be held on or before October 22.
Three days after the opening ceremony, a survey showed that Suga’s approval rating had dropped significantly due to a ‘lack of leadership’. Suga’s cabinet’s approval dropped 9% since June to 34%.
Dissent for the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has largely been centered around his handling of the pandemic and decision to proceed with hosting the Olympic Games, which was already delayed for a year. Over 450,000 people signed a petition to cancel the event due to the health risk.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization urged “everyone to take caution in what they do” at the games, and linked this year’s UEFA European Championship to a rise in positive cases in Europe.
In response to the reported health risks, Tokyo’s state of emergency effectively blocked fans from watching the Olympics in person.
Some nearby cities hosting events, however, allow spectators to attend.
But the growing numbers of cases – and the government’s sinking approval ratings – suggest the Olympics have not been a political win for the new head of the LDP.
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