TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday he regretted having to take all the flak for holding the Summer Olympics during a pandemic as his government was reported to favour allowing domestic spectators into stadiums to watch.
Tokyo 2020, already postponed by a year, has faced strong opposition from the public, medical experts and some former athletes amid a fourth wave of infections.
And Suga's comments appeared to illustrate tensions bubbling to the surface as the government bolsters its assurances to the world that the Games will be safe when they start on July 23.
He was speaking in response to comments at a parliamentary session from an opposition lawmaker, who said the prime minister had been coming under attack over holding the Games during the COVID-19 pandemic when the host city governor, Yuriko Koike, should be weighing in.
"I'm very glad you said what I want to say," Suga replied. "Even though I (tried to make) such remarks, parliament's discussions conclude that all the responsibilities should be taken by the prime minister.
"...I am not trying to run away from (responsibilities), but I feel it is regrettable that this is the direction of the debate in parliament."
Koike was not immediately available for comment.
Government officials and Olympics organisers are in favour of holding the Games with local spectators as COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out and case numbers decline, the Asahi newspaper reported, without citing sources.
The prime minister's office declined to comment. Foreign spectators are already prohibited from the Olympics and organisers will finalise plans for spectators before the end of this month.
Japan has been spared the widespread infections seen elsewhere in the world but has recorded more than 760,000 cases and more than 13,600 deaths. Tokyo and other regions are still under a state of emergency which is set to be lifted on June 20.
Japan's vaccination rate has risen to about 11% of its population with at least one dose, still slow compared with other advanced nations.
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said on Tuesday that overseas media will be monitored via GPS and not be allowed to visit the houses of local friends or other unregistered areas.
The level of surveillance also drew criticism.
"Monitoring foreigners via GPS for the sake of holding the Olympics safely could lead to restriction of freedom and human rights," said Mitsuru Fukuda, professor at college of risk management at Nihon University.
"Japan's discernment can be called into question and the decision could damage Japan's interests."
Some Japanese doubted the effect of the measure, with commentators on social media saying reporters could just leave their smartphones at their hotels and travel anywhere they want.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne on Wednesday said some athletes she has met are "so excited to be able to participate in the Games" despite some of the most difficult circumstances ever seen for a modern Olympics.
But, the same day, the Australian baseball team pulled out of the final qualifying tournament for the Games due to "insurmountable" challenges amid the pandemic.
Popular Japanese singer Yuzo Kayama became the latest celebrity withdrawing from the Olympics torch relay, saying he was not happy about holding the Games given current conditions around the world, Kyodo news reported. (Additional reporting by Junko Fujita and Rikako Maruyama; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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