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Shrinking returns

Shrinking returns
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A few short months before the delayed 2021 Olympics are slated to begin, Japan is expanding the state of emergency declared in Tokyo to seven more prefectures. As Japan undergoes its worst outbreak yet, all non resident foreign nationals will be banned from entering Japan until the current emergency measures are lifted. On top of registering five thousand plus new cases everyday, Japan also recently announced the discovery of yet another Covid strain, different from the one found in Britain and South Africa.

Japan's current state is an unimaginable contrast to the position the Japanese Government hopes to be in a few short months. It was not too long ago that the Japanese Olympics organisation committee had claimed that the games were being planned with adequate measures to accommodate a limited number of spectators from each country in addition to the athletes. This, it must be mentioned, was at a time before the first vaccines were announced and the committee had announced that taking a vaccine shot would not be a mandatory prerequisite to attending the games. The organisers asserted with confidence that other measures were being sought to maintain safety. It may also be said that the successful continuation of sports in 2020 (for the most part) and its use of bio-bubbles also added to the confidence that such a large scale event was possible. Even back then, NHK surveys were showing a pattern of cooling support for the games amongst the Japanese people. While there were a few who supported the narrative that the Olympics would be a burning light of hope marking the end of a period of despair, others saw the situation more simply. It was too early. Japan's early successes in keeping the pandemic at bay were slowly proving to be a case of celebrating too early. Now, a recent Kyodo News poll showed that support for cancelling or postponing the games has risen to as high as 80 per cent of those who were surveyed.

Other factors are also at play. The uncontrollable spike in case count around new year time was tied in with a growing case of pandemic fatigue which has seen more people, especially the youth flout holiday Coronavirus restrictions. Then there is the matter of vaccine hesitancy that also makes an early mass vaccination plan difficult. Like many other countries, phantoms of past vaccine fiascos have left a significant part of the population with some amount of vaccine hesitancy, While there are announcements of stricter measures on the horizon, critics say the government under new PM Suga has been lacking a clear direction for its pandemic response which has delayed any chances of blunting the impact of the current holiday season outbreak before the planned reopening of the country to tourists in spring. Suga has shown visible reluctance to any severe pandemic control measures that could impede the course of the already impacted Japanese economy. As a result, his personal approval ratings are steadily dipping.

At this moment, the Government itself is resolute about carrying on with the games. As experts have explained, there is simply too much invested at this point to not go ahead. Every month, every day of delay increases the cost for the Japanese Government. Last year, many speculated that another delay of the event would be as good as a cancellation as there were doubts that another major delay would be afforded. Some have even pointed towards the loss of national prestige, especially when taken next to the 2022 Winter Olympics in China which most expect will not be cancelled or postponed.

The timing of the upcoming decision will also have great bearing on the current Japanese Government as Suga will be facing elections in October. Suga and his Government are facing an increasingly uphill task of countering bad faith and publicity regarding the event as much as they have to face an escalating viral outbreak. A smattering of unflattering news coverage regarding the Olympics and the process or organising it has seen the upcoming Olympics being dubbed as 'cursed' by many parts of the Japanese public. At this stage, it would be understandably difficult for people to follow the direction of the Government in good faith and believe that the benefit of holding the games would far outdo any potential harms.

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