Japanese Emperor Naruhito 'Extremely Worried' About Olympics as Tokyo COVID Cases Rise Again

Japanese Emperor Naruhito is "extremely worried" about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics being held as the number of COVID-19 cases increase in the city, the head of the Imperial Palace said Thursday.

The grand steward of the Imperial Household Agency, Yasuhiko Nishimura, shared the emperor's concerns at a news conference.

"His majesty is extremely worried about the current situation of the COVID-19 infections," Nishimura said.

"While there are voices of unease among the public, I believe (the emperor) is concerned that holding the Olympics and Paralympics ... may lead to the expansion of the infections."

Though the emperor is only a symbol of the state with no political power, Naruhito's words are highly respected, and the emperor himself has gained popularity just like his father.

Nishimura also spoke to organizers about the containment of the virus, urging them to "take every possible anti-virus measures so as not to cause the spread of the infections at the Olympics and Paralympics, where the emperor serves the Honorary Patron."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Olympic Rings
A man wearing a face mask, amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus, stands before the Olympic rings from an observation point in Tokyo's Odaiba district on March 25, 2020, the day after the historic decision to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. Emperor Naruhito voiced his concerns about holding the Olympics next month as COVID cases rise again in Tokyo. Behrouz Mehri/AFP via Getty Images

The games will bring thousands of foreign athletes, officials, sponsors and journalists to Japan during a pandemic, despite caution raised by experts about the risk of infections and the public's persistent calls for cancellation or further postponement.

The delayed games open July 23, and the Paralympics begin a month later.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics despite concerns from the public and public health experts.

Adding to their concern, officials in Izumisano, a western Japan town hosting the nine-member Ugandan Olympic team for training, said a second member of the team tested positive for the virus. The first, reportedly a coach, was detected upon arrival Saturday in Tokyo. The rest of the team have been isolating at an Osaka hotel.

Suga eased a third state of emergency in Tokyo that had been in place since late April and switched to less-stringent measures focusing on shorter bar and restaurant hours. But experts said Wednesday that infections are already bouncing back in the Tokyo region and could accelerate in coming weeks.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, downplaying the impact of emperor's concern, said he believed the grand steward expressed "his personal views."

Naruhito, 61, also expressed his concern about the pandemic in his speech at an academic award ceremony Monday: "In order to overcome this challenge, it is important for all of us, in and outside of Japan, to bring our hearts together and cooperate."

Under the plan before a one-year postponement, Naruhito was scheduled to declare the start of the Olympics at the opening ceremony, but details, including his presence at the games, are yet to be finalized, palace officials said.

Emperor Naruhito
FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2020, file photo, Japan's Emperor Naruhito wearing a face mask to protect against the coronavirus attends to formally open an extraordinary Diet session at the upper house of parliament in Tokyo. Naruhito is "extremely worried" about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics being held as the number of COVID-19 cases increase in the city, the head of the Imperial Palace said Thursday. Koji Sasahara, File/AP Photo