Suga (right) greets Bach. Photo: Kyodonews.net

TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday agreed with International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach that the Tokyo Olympics will be held as planned next summer, possibly with spectators, despite the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic, reported Kyodo News.

Suga and Bach, who is on a four-day visit to Tokyo that began Sunday, said they discussed preparations taking place for the Summer Games and agreed to continue working closely to ensure the safety of visitors as the number of novel coronavirus cases continues to rise across the world.

After the meeting, Bach told reporters he is confident spectators will be able to enter games venues to watch the sporting action, promising that the IOC will step up efforts to make sure those in the crowd and athletes will be vaccinated “if by then a vaccine is available”.

“In this meeting, we were totally aligned in the full determination and confidence to make the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and the Paralympic Games a great success next summer here in Tokyo,” he said.

“Together we can make these Olympics Games and the Olympic flame the light at the end of the tunnel.”

At a press conference later in the day, Bach suggested that the IOC could shoulder some of the costs of vaccinating participants for the disease Covid-19 if a vaccine becomes available, though he denied “rumours” it would be a requirement for overseas visitors to enter Japan.

Still, he remained vague on the details, including the number of spectators to be allowed in stadiums and when that will be decided.

This is Bach’s first trip to Japan since the decision in March to postpone the Olympics and Paralympics by one year due to the outbreak of the virus.

The games are now scheduled to be held in 2021, the Olympics on July 23-Aug 8 and the Paralympics on Aug 24-Sept 5.

Compared with many other countries, Japan has been relatively unscathed by the pandemic. It has, however, seen record daily infections in recent days as the temperature has dropped and after it began easing restrictions on people’s movement and border controls.

Under such circumstances, Suga renewed his pledge in the presence of Bach that he is “determined” to host the games as “proof that humanity has defeated the virus”.

“I explained that we are making various considerations on the premise of having spectators and agreed with President Bach to work closely together toward realising a safe and secure Olympics,” Suga told reporters after the approximately 30-minute meeting.

The meeting, also the first with Suga since he became prime minister in mid-September, took place as the Japanese government has accelerated the process of formulating measures against the virus during the games.

Tokyo Gov Yuriko Koike, who separately held talks with Bach, said the Japanese capital hopes to welcome people from overseas by cooperating with the IOC and other related bodies.

“Tokyo is, together with the Japanese government, putting our utmost efforts on measures against the novel coronavirus, and we are striving to welcome everybody including athletes from around the world,” Koike told Bach.

Japan is now planning to exempt foreign visitors traveling to the games from its 14-day quarantine requirement if they are from countries or regions with relatively few coronavirus cases.

Athletes and staff participating in international competitions or training camps in Japan prior to the games will also be exempted from the quarantine period.

The government will decide by next spring whether to permit overseas spectators to attend the games.

Japan logged a new record daily total of more than 1,600 infections last week, surpassing the previous peak in early August.

Media polls have indicated the Japanese public is divided over the hosting of the games in the Japanese capital.

A Kyodo News poll in October showed 37.6 per cent of respondents said they think the Olympics and Paralympics should be held, while 31.8 per cent said the games should be postponed again, and 24.1 per cent said they should be called off.

Abe (right) receives the Olympic Order from IOC chief Bach in Tokyo yesterday. Photo: Kyodonews.net

In the afternoon, Bach met former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was the country’s leader when Tokyo won the bid to host the 2020 Games but was forced to step down for health reasons.

Bach gave him the Olympic Order, the IOC’s highest award, for his contributions to the hosting of the games.

On Tuesday, Bach is scheduled to visit the athletes’ village and the National Stadium. Completed in November 2019, the stadium will be used for athletics and soccer during the Tokyo Games as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. – Bernama