TOKYO (AP) — Japan
's Emperor Naruhito
is "extremely concerned" that the Olympics
and Paralympics in Tokyo will hasten the spread of the coronavirus
, the head of the Imperial Palace said Thursday, with the games set to begin in one month.
Thousands of foreign athletes, officials, sponsors, and journalists
to Japan during a pandemic
, despite expert warnings about the risk of infection and public calls for cancellation or further postponement.
The Emperor has expressed concerns, according to Yasuhiko Nishimura, grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency.
“While there are voices of unease among the public, I believe (the emperor) is concerned that holding the Olympics and Paralympics... may lead to the expansion of the infections,” Nishimura said.
The postponed games begin on July 23, followed by the Paralympics a month later.
Nishimura also urged the organizers to “take every possible anti-virus measure to avoid the spread of infections at the Olympics and Paralympics, where the Emperor serves as Honorary Patron.”
The emperor is a symbol of the state with no political power, but Naruhito, like his father, has gained widespread popularity and his words are highly respected.
Despite public and public health
experts' concerns, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is adamant that the Olympics go ahead.
Officials in Izumisano, a western Japanese town hosting the nine-member Ugandan Olympic team for training, said a second member of the team tested positive for the virus, after the first, reportedly a coach, was detected upon arrival in Tokyo on Saturday. The rest of the team is being isolated at an Osaka
Suga lifted Tokyo's third state of emergency, which had been in place since late April
, and switched to less stringent measures focusing on shorter bar and restaurant hours, but experts said Wednesday that infections are already resuming in the Tokyo area and could worsen in the coming weeks.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, downplaying the significance of the emperor's concern, stated that the grand steward expressed "his personal views."
In his speech at an academic award ceremony on Monday, Naruhito, 61, expressed his concern about the pandemic, saying, “To overcome this challenge, it is important for all of us, in and outside of Japan, to bring our hearts together and cooperate.”
Naruhito was supposed to declare the start of the Olympics at the opening ceremony before a one-year postponement, but details, including his presence at the games, have yet to be finalized, according to palace officials.