Japan’s own “Dr. Fauci,” doesn’t have a reputation for being outspoken, particularly on opinions that would go against the official policy of the government. But in recent weeks, Japan’s top adviser on COVID-19 has railed against the idea of having spectators at the upcoming summer Olympics.
Shigeru Omi, 72, appeared with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshidide Suga at a Thursday press conference where the two appeared to be on the same page, Bloomberg reported.
But just two weeks prior, Omi raised eyebrows when he questioned before a parliamentary committee why the country was going ahead with the Olympics when the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t subsided.
“Why on earth are we doing this in the current circumstances?” Omi said. “The purpose hasn’t quite been made clear.”
The comments stoked some controversy, given Japan’s traditional hierarchical political structure, and boosted Omi’s public profile in a similar fashion to Dr. Anthony Fauci in the U.S.
Omi and other health experts are expected to release a set of proposals for the Olympics on Friday, though to what extent those will be implemented as official policy remains unclear. One of those proposals, according to public broadcaster NHK, is to hold the Olympic games without fans in attendance.
On Thursday, the Japanese government said it would begin easing a coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo and six other areas next week.
Japan has been struggling since late March to slow a wave of infections propelled by COVID variants. At one point, new daily cases soared above 7,000 and seriously ill patients were straining hospitals in Tokyo and other metropolitan areas.
New cases have since dropped significantly, paving the way for Suga to ease the state of emergency when it expires on June 20. The new measures will last until July 11 — just 12 days before the Olympics.
Meanwhile, limits for the number of fans at sporting events will remain in place, and “the upper limits for the Tokyo Olympics will be decided in line with these rules,” Suga said.
At a virus panel meeting Thursday, where experts gave their approval for government plans to downgrade the emergency, Omi said Japan “must do everything we can, and provide firm financial support” to minimize risks of a resurgence of infections.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.