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TOKYO, June 24 (Reuters) – Japanese Emperor Naruhito appears “concerned” about the possibility the Olympic Games could cause the coronavirus to spread as feared by many in the public, Kyodo News quoted an official at the Imperial Household Agency (IHA) as saying.
“The emperor is extremely worried about the current status of coronavirus infections,” IHA Grand Steward Yasuhiko Nishimura told a regular news conference on Thursday, according to Kyodo. “Given the public’s worries (over the Games), he appears to be concerned about whether the event would cause infections to spread.”
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.
Many Japanese remain sceptical about the possibility of holding even a scaled-down Games safely during a pandemic. Organisers have excluded foreign spectators and limited the number of locals 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, public broadcaster NHK reported on Thursday, citing government data. (Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Himani Sarkar and Lincoln Feast.)