Japan is set to host the Olympics later this month, despite the fact that less than 10% of its population has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. “It feels like a runaway train. There’s no stopping it,” says Motoko Rich in this podcast for The Daily. Japan has invested more than $15bn in the Tokyo Games, and can’t break its contract with the International Olympic Committee. The event has also become a question of national pride, reflecting Japan’s handling of the pandemic. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s career is “dead in the water” if he cancels the event.
He may also be “damned” if it goes ahead. When the Games were postponed in 2020, Japan appeared to have the virus under control. Yet 2021 has seen a surge in infections and deaths, unnerving the Japanese public. Many are frustrated by the sluggish vaccine rollout, and 85% of people fear the Olympics will be a super-spreader event, plunging Japan back into lockdown. The lighting of the relay torch triggered a wave of protests and petitions to cancel or postpone the event. Rather than being a moment of national triumph, the Olympics may reveal that the pandemic is far from over in Japan.