Staging Olympics ‘a suicide mission’, says Japanese exec

A man looks at his phone as he walks by billboards promoting the Olympics on Friday in Tokyo. (Reuters Photo)

Holding the Olympics as planned in Tokyo in two months would be like a “suicide mission” because Japan has been so late in vaccinating its population, a Japanese business leader has warned.

Hiroshi Mikitani, chief executive of the online retailer Rakuten Group and an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the pandemic, made the comment in an interview with CNN.

“It’s dangerous to host the big international event from all over the world,” he said.

“So, the risk is too big and … I’m against having the Tokyo Olympics this year,” he said, describing the Games as “a suicide mission”.

His comments came as Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga reiterated that he was confident that it would be possible to hold the Games safely.

On Friday, Japan extended a coronavirus state of emergency as the country is battling a fourth wave of virus infections.

The surge has put pressure on the healthcare system, with medical professionals repeatedly warning about shortages and burnout.

With just over 10 weeks until the Games open on July 23, public opinion remains opposed, with most favouring a further delay or cancellation.

On Friday, a petition to cancel the Tokyo Games with more than 351,000 signatures was submitted to the city’s governor.

Mikitani said it was not too late to scrap the event, saying: “Everything is possible.”

But organisers say they can safely hold the Games thanks to virus countermeasures and point to a string of successful recent test events, including some featuring overseas athletes.

In other Covid-related news:

Taiwan imposed restrictions on gatherings and ordered entertainment businesses to shutter operations as it raised the alert level in its capital to battle a surge in local Covid infections.

Authorities encouraged people to stay at home this weekend as a record 180 new local cases were reported on Saturday. Indoor family and social gatherings in Taipei will be limited to five people, while outdoor ones will be restricted to 10, they said.

The alert level for Taipei and New Taipei city will be raised until May 28, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said. Schools and offices will remain open, as will department stores and restaurants.

Chen said the restrictions aren’t a lockdown but meant to curb the movement of people. The threshold of a lockdown is when there is an average of 100 or more new local cases added daily for 14 days, he said.

The increase in infections threatens to shatter Taiwan’s status as one of the world’s biggest success stories in containing the pandemic. Before the current surge, Taiwan was one of just a few places in the world that had all but eliminated the virus, including Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and China. Taiwan had 1,475 confirmed cases and 12 deaths as of Saturday.

Vietnam reported its first Covid death of the year on Saturday. An 89-year-old woman died after being treated for pneumonia caused by the virus at a Hanoi hospital, according to the health ministry.

It was the country’s first reported virus death since September, the ministry’s news website Suc Khoe Doi Song said.

The country of 95 million has confirmed 823 new domestic virus cases since April 27, taking the cumulative total since last March to 3,854, with 36 deaths.

In Singapore, checking in to a hotel room from Sunday could also mean agreeing to random checks from staff to ensure only two guests are in the room at any time.

That’s just one example of how the city-state’s tourism sector is racing to adapt to the latest restrictions imposed on the local population to curb the spread of the virus.

Staycations can go ahead as planned, according to the country’s tourism board, but the experiences on offer will be unlike what customers initially signed up for.

Dining-in options at hotel restaurants will be unavailable and luxury hotels are offering in-room “bento boxes” to replace the breakfast many would have enjoyed during their stay. Dining credits will instead be replaced with credits to use for room service.

Portugal will allow tourist flights from European Union countries with low infection rates and from the UK, but passengers must show a negative coronavirus test on arrival, the Interior Ministry said on Saturday.

The announcement came a day after the Portuguese tourism authority gave the green light to UK tourists to enter the country from Monday.

In a statement, it said the ban will be lifted on European countries with less than 500 cases of infections per 100,000 people.

Tourists from Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are also allowed to start flying to Portugal.

Visitors will have to show proof of a negative test taken up to 72 hours before a flight and airlines will be fined between 500 euros and 2,000 euros for each passenger who boards without presenting proof of a negative test.

Portugal currently only allows essential flights for professional, study, family reunion, health or humanitarian reasons.

In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has begun preliminary internal discussions about reopening the long-closed border with the United States, even as Canada remains well behind its neighbour in vaccinations.

Senior officials have begun to formally talk about options for how to proceed, three people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition they not be identified.

One question under consideration is whether to employ a two-track system in which quarantine and testing requirements would be relaxed for vaccinated travellers.

In the United Kingdom, rising cases of the Indian variant of coronavirus could force the government to delay plans to end the pandemic lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned.

Speaking in London, the premier said the government would speed up second doses of vaccines for the over-50s and for vulnerable groups in an effort to combat the new strain. The gap between first and second doses will be cut to eight weeks from 12 for these groups, he said.

“I have to level with you that this new variant could pose a serious disruption to our progress,” Johnson said. It could be “more difficult” to move to the final phase of lockdown easing on June 21, he said.

In the United States, the Biden administration will begin updating its guidance for travel and other sectors — likely further relaxing rules across the US after largely lifting its mask mandate for vaccinated people.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people could go without a mask in most settings, even indoors in large crowds, in what was a key milestone in the US path out of the pandemic.

Other steps will follow. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Friday that the agency would update guidance for travel, schools and other things, and the White House is signaling to government agencies that they also can loosen mask rules.