Japan’s “Dr Fauci” does not have a reputation for being outspoken, especially on opinions that would be contrary to official government policy. But in recent weeks, Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser has spoken out against the idea of having spectators at the upcoming Summer Olympics.
Shigeru Omi, 72, appeared with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshidide Suga at a press conference Thursday where the two appeared to be on the same page, Bloomberg reported.
But just two weeks earlier, Omi had raised his eyebrows when he asked before a parliamentary committee why the country was moving forward with the Olympics when the COVID-19 pandemic had not subsided.
“Why the hell are we doing this under the current circumstances? Omi said. “The goal was not entirely clear.”
The comments fueled some controversy, given Japan’s traditional hierarchical political structure, and bolstered Omi’s public profile in the same way that Dr.Anthony Fauci did in the United States.
Omi and other health experts are expected to release a package of proposals for the Olympics on Friday, though to what extent these will be implemented as official policy remains uncertain. One of these proposals, according to the public broadcaster NHK, is to organize the Olympic Games without the presence of fans.
On Thursday, the Japanese government announced that it would start easing the coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and six other regions next week.
Japan has been struggling since the end of March to slow down a wave of infections propelled by variants of COVID. At one point, daily new cases exceeded 7,000 and critically ill patients were straining hospitals in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas.
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New cases have since declined significantly, paving the way for Suga to ease the state of emergency when it expires on June 20. The new measures will last until July 11, just 12 days before the Olympics.
Meanwhile, the limits on the number of fans at sporting events will remain in place and “the upper limits for the Tokyo Olympics will be decided according to these rules,” Suga said.
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At a virus panel meeting on Thursday, where experts gave their approval to the government’s plans to reduce the state of emergency, Omi said Japan “must do everything in its power and provide strong financial support “to minimize the risk of a resurgence of infections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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