Shigeru Omi, Japan’s Dr. Fauci, Suggests Tokyo Olympics Should Ban Fans

Shigeru Omi, the head of a panel of experts advising the government on COVID-19, speaks at a news conference on Wednesday. | KYODO

While Shigeru Omi may invite comparisons to leading U.S. doctor Anthony Fauci, Japan’s top COVID-19 adviser had shown little of his American counterpart’s flair for challenging politicians. That is, until he started suggesting banning spectators from the Tokyo Olympics.

Omi, the government’s top adviser on COVID-19, is a mild-mannered 72-year-old public health expert often seen by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s side. But his concern over plans reported in the media to allow domestic spectators seems to have prompted him to question the government’s push to have fans attend Olympic events.

Omi appeared to open a gap with Suga, who has pressed ahead with holding the Olympics as planned, when he told a parliamentary committee on June 2 that “it’s not normal” to be staging the global sports spectacle in the middle of a pandemic. The organizers needed to make a stronger case for holding the event in order to gain people’s necessary cooperation, he said.

“Why on earth are we doing this in the current circumstances?” Omi said. “The purpose hasn’t quite been made clear.”

Such public questioning of the official position is unusual in the nation’s hierarchical political culture. Domestic media have reported that some spectators are likely to be allowed at venues, although the decision may not be made public until after a state of emergency in Tokyo that is set to end on Sunday.

Organizers for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics plan to halt sales of more tickets to the events, Kyodo News reported Thursday.

Former internal affairs minister Heizo Takenaka told a TV talk show that Omi had exceeded his authority with the remarks. Now Omi and other experts are set to release a proposal on the Olympics, which health minister Norihisa Tamura has already indicated he won’t be treating as official advice.

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SOURCE: Japan Times, Isabel Reynolds

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