April 16, 2021

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Governor warns Tokyo needs to beat coronavirus to keep Olympics on track

As the one-year countdown gets underway for the postponed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics, the athletes aren’t the only participants gearing up for the biggest battle of their career. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike is vowing to do her best to keep the games alive.

Tokyo 2020 “can become a symbol of how the world has united to overcome the hardship and how humanity has strengthened its bonds,” Koike told CNBC in an interview on Tuesday, just weeks after securing a resounding second-term election victory.

The governor refrained from guaranteeing the event would take place a year from now, acknowledging hurdles tied to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“In order to realize such hopeful games, we will continue to do our best to fight against the infectious disease,” she said.

She also acknowledged the importance of shoring up support for the games among people in Japan. According to a poll released by Kyodo news agency last week, less than a quarter of respondents want to see the games held in 2021. Just over 36% favored a further delay to the games and nearly 34% think the event should be cancelled outright, the poll found.

In addition to making sure the games are carried out safely, the governor said she’s also been tasked with keeping the costs of the event in check. The decision in March to postpone the Olympics dealt a blow to Tokyo’s economy at a time when the pandemic has pushed Japan into a recession.

Proposals have been floated to scale back aspects of the event, such as the opening and closing ceremony, which could satisfy some of the health and financial concerns. When asked whether a slimmed down version of the games would go ahead without spectators altogether, Koike declined to comment, insisting that “first of all, we have to win the victory against the coronavirus.”

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike during a press conference at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government office.

Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

The governor has won plaudits for her handling of the crisis to date, which likely contributed to her stronger-than-expected election result earlier this month. Koike secured the second-largest voter count in Tokyo’s gubernatorial history, fueling speculation about her eventual bid to become prime minister.

Cases of the coronavirus have been rising steadily since voting day, however, prompting concern across the capital. Tokyo recorded 237 new cases on Tuesday, down slightly from a record 293 cases reported last Friday, according to Kyodo. That brings the city’s total reported cases to 9,816, according to the news agency.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government raised its alert system to the highest possible level last week, in order to warn residents about the risk of transmission. When asked about the upward trend, the governor noted that the number of deaths was “very limited” and that the number of severe cases was also limited, relative to the rest of the world.

While acknowledging the case for caution and further preventative measures, Koike said now was not the time to request another state of emergency, which was lifted in May.

“I think this is the time to live peacefully and safely with the current Covid-19,” she said, calling on individuals and businesses to play their part in the ongoing fight.

Disclosure: CNBC parent NBCUniversal owns NBC Sports and NBC Olympics. NBC Olympics is the U.S. broadcast rights holder to all Summer and Winter Games through the year 2032.

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