Japanese Emperor 'extremely worried' Olympics could speed up COVID-19 spread

Japanese Emperor 'extremely worried' Olympics could speed up COVID-19 spread
© Getty Images

The head of Japan's Imperial Palace on Thursday said Japan's Emperor Naruhito is “extremely worried" that the upcoming Olympics and Paralympics could speed up the spread of COVID-19.

Grand Steward of the Imperial Household agency Yasuhiko Nishimura shared the Emperor's misgivings during a news conference, PBS NewsHour reports.

“His majesty is extremely worried about the current situation of the COVID-19 infections,” the grand steward said. “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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Nishimura urged game organizers to “take every possible anti-virus measures so as not to cause the spread of the infections at the Olympics and Paralympics, where the emperor serves the Honorary Patron.”

The games are expected to open on July 23, with the Paralympics set to start a month afterwards.

PBS notes that although the Emperor's role in entirely symbolic, he still holds a great deal of popularity in Japan and his words still demand respect.

Emperor Naruhito expressed his concerns earlier this week when speaking at an academic award ceremony, PBS reports.

“In order to overcome this challenge, it is important for all of us, in and outside of Japan, to bring our hearts together and cooperate," he said.

Thousands of people are expected to gather to observe the games this year even as spectators have been limited to athletes' families, coaches and some local fans.

Just last week, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga eased the months-long COVID-19 state of emergency in nine regions, with authorities maintaining “quasi-emergency” measures. Japan recently experienced a fourth surge in COVID-19 cases, leading to the U.S. warning citizens against traveling to the country in May. Cases have recently dropped significantly, however, as vaccination rates have continued.

According to Our World in Data, around 10 percent of Japan's population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.