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Japan support for Olympics rising

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Tokyo—Around a third of Japanese now back holding the Olympics, up from just 14 percent last month, a new poll showed Monday, though a majority still prefer cancellation or postponement because of the pandemic.

Japan support for Olympics rising
A view of the main dining hall of the Olympic Village during a media tour of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Village in Tokyo. AFP

The poll reinforces other recent surveys that suggest opposition to Tokyo 2020 is softening slightly, just over a month before the July 23 opening ceremony.

Support for holding the virus-postponed Games rose to 34 percent, according to the poll by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper published on Monday.

However, 32 percent still want the Games to be cancelled altogether and 30 percent want the games to be delayed again, down from 43 percent and 40 percent in last month’s survey, respectively.

Organizers have ruled out postponing the Games again, and the first Olympic athletes have already arrived in Japan.

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The Asahi survey was conducted on June 19 and 20, with 1,469 responses from people contacted on home and mobile phones.

It comes after several recent surveys that offered respondents the choice between cancelling the Games or holding it—with no postponement option—found that more back holding the event than scrapping it.

The shift in sentiment will be welcome news for organisers, who are expected to announce later Monday how many local fans, if any, will be in the stands for the Games.

After a coronavirus state of emergency ended in Tokyo on Sunday, new restrictions limit audiences at large events to 5,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is smallest.

That rule is scheduled to be in place until July 11, after which the cap will expand to 10,000 people or 50 percent capacity.

Local media reports suggest Olympic organizers will set a 10,000 spectator cap, but that the audience for the opening ceremony could swell to 20,000 including dignitaries and sponsors.

Japan has seen a comparatively small virus outbreak, with around 14,500 deaths despite avoiding harsh lockdowns.

But its vaccine rollout started slowly, only picking up pace in recent weeks. Around 6.5 percent of the population is currently fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, organizers and Japanese officials meet Monday to decide whether fans will be allowed at the pandemic-postponed Games, just weeks before they open.

With the opening ceremony looming on July 23, organisers are scrambling to finalise preparations, but the decision on spectators has been left as late as possible.

Overseas spectators have already been banned, in an Olympic first that reflects the difficulties of staging the Games during the pandemic.

A coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo was only lifted on Sunday, and restrictions in place until July 11 cap crowd capacity at 5,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is smaller.

After July 11, that will rise to 10,000 people or 50 percent capacity, whichever is smaller.

Senior medical experts, including top advisors to the government, have said holding the Games behind closed doors would be “ideal” from a health perspective.

They fear crowds of fans could fuel a new surge in infections in a country still racing to vaccinate its residents.

But reports suggest organizers are leaning towards allowing in up to 10,000 fans, a figure that could swell to 20,000 at the opening ceremony, with foreign dignitaries and sponsors allowed to attend. 

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