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Emperor Naruhito concerned Olympics may increase COVID-19 infections, official believes

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Emperor Naruhito is believed to be “concerned” that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics could cause a further increase in coronavirus cases, the head of the Imperial Household Agency said Thursday.

“His majesty is very worried about the current infection situation of the COVID-19 disease,” Yasuhiko Nishimura, grand steward of the agency, said at a news conference.

“I suppose that (the emperor) is concerned that while there are voices of anxiety among the public, the holding (of the games) may lead to the expansion of infections,” Nishimura said.

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 the country’s figurehead, although it is rare for him to make public statements.

Nishimura called on the Tokyo Games organizers to do everything they can to prevent the infections.

Many Japanese remain skeptical about the possibility of holding even a scaled-down games safely during a pandemic. Organizers have excluded foreign spectators and limited the number of local fans who can visit venues. 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 the vaccine roll-out was initially slow and the medical system pushed to the brink in some places.

More than 50% of Japanese senior citizens have now received their first vaccine doses, NHK reported on Thursday, citing government data.

A third COVID-19 state of emergency in Tokyo from late April ended on Sunday. However, there are already signs of a rebound in infections, with the capital on Wednesday reporting 619 new infections — the highest single-day spike in about a month. Tokyo reported 570 cases on Thursday, up from 452 cases a week earlier.

A Kyodo News survey, the results of which were released over the weekend, showed that about 86% of people in Japan are concerned about the risk of a rebound in COVID-19 cases.

A number of influential infectious disease experts have also warned of a possible resurgence of the virus before or after the Olympics begin on July 23.

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