Japan sees no impact on Tokyo Games from US travel advice

FILE PHOTO: Security personnel stand guard near the Olympic rings monument during a rally by anti-Olympics protesters outside the Japanese Olympic Committee headquarters, in Tokyo, Japan May 18, 2021. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo/File Photo

TOKYO: Top Japanese officials said on Tuesday they did not expect a US advisory against travel to Japan due to coronavirus (Covid-19) concerns to affect the Tokyo Olympics — less than two months away — and that US support for the Games was unchanged.

The US State Department’s ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory and guidance for Japan on Monday did not mention the Olympics specifically but warned against visiting the country now.

“At present, we can see no particular impact,” Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa told a news conference.

She noted that the advisory did not ban essential travel and the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee had said planned mitigation practices would allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes.

Japanese and Olympic officials have pledged the Games will go ahead as planned on July 23 after being postponed in 2020, even as surveys show a majority of Japanese want the Games cancelled or postponed due to worries over coronavirus.

An online ‘Stop Tokyo Olympics’ campaign had collected 387,000 signatures as of Tuesday, organisers said.

But Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto said she ‘didn’t think it would impact the Games’, adding the organisers would ‘do their best to prepare for the Olympics whose priority is safety and security’.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Japan was in close contact with the US government.

“There is absolutely no change in the United States’ support for Japan’s decision to hold the Olympics, we believe,” Kato said.

In its new guidance, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said travellers should avoid all travel to Japan.

“Because of the current situation in Japan even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants,” it said.

Australia has also advised against travel to Japan due to health risks from Covid-19 and disruptions to global travel.

Japan has avoided the large-scale infections suffered by many other nations, but a fourth wave has triggered states of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and other localities across the nation.

The governor of Osaka said on Tuesday the prefecture would seek to extend the emergency beyond the current end-date of May 31.

Japan’s slow vaccination roll-out has added to coronavirus concerns. The country, which has recorded 715,940 infections and 12,308 deaths from the virus, has delivered vaccinations to just under 5 percent of its population, the slowest among the world’s larger, rich countries.

Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told a parliamentary panel the government was arranging to send military medical personnel to the Games at the request of organisers, but added the move would not affect mass vaccination sites set up by the military in Tokyo and Osaka, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

The US Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), which oversees Team USA, said in a statement to Reuters that it was aware of the updated State Department advisory on Japan.

“We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff by both the USOPC and the Tokyo Organising Committee, coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer,” the statement said.

Ruling Liberal Democratic Party heavyweight Toshihiro Nikai also said he saw no direct impact on the Olympics from the US travel advisory but added that there were important practical issues that remained to be resolved.

International spectators will not be allowed to enter Japan to attend the Games but a decision has yet to be made on domestic viewers.

Banning overseas spectators will cut the economic boost from the Games by 151.1 billion yen ($1.39 billion) while a full cancellation would mean a lost stimulus of 1.8 trillion yen, or 0.33 percent of GDP, the Nomura Rese­­­arch Institute said in a report.