TOKYO: Support for Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga slid nine points to 34 per cent, its lowest since he took office, a survey showed on Monday (Jul 26), as worries about COVID-19 clouded his hopes that the Tokyo Olympics would boost his ratings ahead of an election this year.
Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the Jul 23 to Jul 25 Nikkei business daily survey said that the country's roll-out of coronavirus vaccinations was not going well.
The programme has been hampered by a slow start and supply snarls, and less than a quarter of the country's population are fully vaccinated.
Suga's dream scenario had been to contain the virus outbreak, preside over a successful Games and call a general election. That was upended after a surge in COVID-19 infections led to a fourth state of emergency in Tokyo and forced Olympic organisers to ban spectators from almost all venues.
Japan has had some cheering news from the Games, taking a total of five gold medals - including a historic two in judo by Uta Abe and her brother Hifumi on Sunday, as well as one silver medal.
About 56 per cent of television viewers in Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto region watched the Olympics opening ceremony live on public broadcaster NHK, Kyodo News reported on Monday, citing research.
Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services, said the opening ceremony was watched by more than 70 million people in Japan, making it the most watched event in the last decade.
Organisers were keeping a wary eye on tropical storm Nepartak, which was heading toward Japan's east coast and is likely to make landfall on Tuesday, although it was forecast to weaken.
They said there was currently no plan to reschedule further events. Tuesday's rowing programme was disrupted, with races rescheduled for later in the week. Monday's rowing events were moved to Sunday in anticipation of the storm.
Japan has not experienced an explosive COVID-19 outbreak as seen elsewhere, but infections in host city Tokyo have been on the rise in recent weeks, with the capital recording 1,763 COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
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WORRIES ABOUT CONTAGION
Many Japanese fear that the influx of athletes and officials for the global sporting event will add to the surge in infections, and 31 per cent in the Nikkei survey said that the Games, postponed last year because of the pandemic, should be cancelled or postponed again.
Among those surveyed by Nikkei, 56 per cent said that Japan's border steps for incoming Olympics athletes and officials were "inappropriate". The Games are being held under tight quarantine rules to prevent the spread of infections, but a number of cases have emerged involving athletes and others.
Olympics organisers reported 16 new Games-related COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the total since Jul 1 to 148.
The Dutch rowing team's performance director said that the team had agreed to separate itself from other competitors after one of its athletes, a coach and a staff member all tested positive for COVID-19.
A strict "playbook" setting out rules to avoid contagion mandates frequent testing for the virus, restricted movements and the wearing of masks by athletes and others in most situations.
The International Olympic Committee said on Sunday, however, that athletes can briefly take off their masks on the podium for 30 seconds for a photo opportunity, as several did after their wins on the day.
Suga took over as prime minister after predecessor Shinzo Abe quit, citing ill health, ending a tenure that lasted nearly eight years, making him Japan's longest-serving prime minister.
Commenting on his soggy support, Suga told monthly magazine Hanada: "I am confident what I am doing is not mistaken. That will not waver," Kyodo reported.
Suga's term as ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) president expires in September, and an election for parliament's powerful lower house must be held by November.
Suga came in fifth in Nikkei's survey of preferred next prime ministers, with just 5 per cent backing him.
Taro Kono, the minister in charge of the vaccine roll-out, topped the list, but his rating slipped four points to 19 per cent, virtually tied with former defence minister Shigeru Ishiba. Next in line were Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi and Abe at 12 per cent and 6 per cent respectively.
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