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Japanese Vaccine Minister Taro Kono wearing a face mask with Japanese and EU flags on it speaks during an interview in Tokyo, on March 29, 2021.

Koji Sasahara/The Associated Press

Two officials in Japan’s ruling LDP party said Thursday that changes could be coming to the Tokyo Olympics. One suggested they still could be cancelled, and the other said even if they proceed, it might be without any fans.

Toshihiro Nikai, the No. 2 and secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, mentioned the cancellation possibility only one day after Tokyo reached the 100-days-to-go mark on Wednesday.

He made his comments in a show recorded by Japan’s TBS TV.

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“If it seems impossible to go on with the Games, they must be definitely cancelled,” Nikai said. “If there is a surge in infections because of the Olympics, there will be no meaning to having the Olympics.”

Asked if a cancellation was still an option, Nikai said: “Of course.” But he added: “It is important for Japan to have a successful Olympics. It is a big opportunity. I want to make it a success. We will have many issues to resolve and prepare, and it is important to take care of them one by one.”

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in a statement there was “no change to the government position to do everything to achieve safe and secure Olympics.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee said in a statement that it remains confident the Games will be staged safely and successfully, “and [we] look forward to participating at Tokyo 2020. Not only because of what we know is being planned by the IOC and Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee to safeguard health and safety but because of our own decisions being made. Our actions will continue to be guided by our Chief Medical Officer and Canadian public health officials.”

Canada led the way a year ago when both the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees announced they wouldn’t send teams to Tokyo unless the Games were postponed. Two days later, the IOC announced the Games would be pushed back a year.

Tokyo organizers said they, the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee “are fully focused on hosting the Games this summer.” They said Suga “has repeatedly expressed the government’s commitment” to holding the Olympics.

COVID-19 cases have been rising across Japan. On Thursday, Japan’s second-largest metropolitan area, Osaka, recorded 1,208 new cases. It was the third straight day that new cases surpassed 1,000. Tokyo hit 729, its highest total in more than two months. Japan has attributed 9,500 deaths to COVID-19, good by world standards but poor by results in Asia.

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Tokyo and Osaka have been under an alert status since earlier this month, but officials are concerned there is little sense of urgency. Experts on a Tokyo metropolitan government task force warned that new variants could replace the conventional virus and trigger explosive growth in infections by early May. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike urged residents to take maximum protection and asked non-Tokyo residents not to visit the area.

Taro Kono, the government minister in charge of Japan’s vaccine rollout, said even if the Olympics go on, there may be no fans of any kind in the venues. He said it’s likely that the Olympics will have to be held in empty venues, particularly as cases surge across the country.

That means only television cameras and still cameras will be around to record the action, joined by some reporters, judges and match officials.

The delayed Tokyo Olympics are slated to open on July 23, and the Paralympics would follow on Aug. 24. Fans from abroad have already been banned. Now even Japanese spectators could be kept away.

“I think the question is how to do the Olympics in a way that is possible in this situation,” Kono said Thursday on a TV talk show. “That may mean there will probably be no spectators.”

Kono did not suggest the Olympics would not go ahead, but he said they could be held under only “certain conditions.”

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“The way these Olympics will be held will be very different from past ones,” he said.

Tokyo organizers have said they expect to announce a decision this month on the number of fans allowed into each venue.

Organizers had expected to receive about US$800-million from ticket sales, their third-largest source of income. Any shortfall will have to be made up by Japanese government entities, which are already footing most of the bills.

The official cost for the Olympics is US$15.4-billion, but several government audits have suggested it might be twice that much, and all but US$6.7-billion is public money.

with a report from The Canadian Press

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