Public support for the government of Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, has slumped to an all-time low, despite evidence that most people support the decision to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics during the coronavirus pandemic.
Suga had been hoping to bask in the afterglow of the Games, which ended on Sunday, but support for his cabinet has dipped below 30% for the first time since he became prime minister last September, largely over its response to a recent surge in infections.
Approval for the cabinet dropped to 28% according to a poll by the Asahi Shimbun, down three percentage points from the middle of last month, while 56% said the decision to host the Games, in which Japan won a record 58 medals, had been the right one.
But the results suggest Suga’s gamble on a “safe and secure” Olympics has not paid off, amid a surge in Covid-19 infections and renewed pressure on hospitals. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they had “no faith” in his approach to the pandemic.
While there is no evidence that athletes, officials and tens of thousands of other Olympic-related visitors were directly responsible for the rise in cases, experts say people were less vigilant about anti-virus measures during the 16 days of sport in the capital.
Hidemasa Nakamura, the Tokyo 2020 delivery officer, said the positivity rate among athletes and Olympic-related visitors was 0.02% – proof, he added, that the Games had been held safely.
But over the same period, infections in Japan rose by 170,000, with Tokyo reporting record daily cases.
Nobuhiko Okabe, a public health expert who advised the government on infection controls during the Games, said the “party-like mood” had had an “indirect impact” on the surge in cases. “The fact that people’s defences are down poses a risk,” he said, according to the Asahi.
Suga’s claim that there had been no change in people’s movements during the Games is at odds with data showing a significant rise in footfall around the national stadium when it hosted the opening ceremony on 23 July.
Spectators also congregated near other venues, even though they were banned from entering them, and crowds lined the routes of outdoor events such as the triathlons and bicycle road races.
The rise in infections forced the government to extend a state of emergency in the capital until at least the end of the month.
In an attempt to relieve pressure on medical services, only Covid-19 patients with serious symptoms – or those who are at risk of developing them – are being treated in hospitals in areas where the virus is spreading quickly.
That has led to fears that people told to stay at home could die if their condition deteriorated quickly. More than 80 people with Covid-19 died at home in the first half of this year, according to new government figures.
More than 45,000 people with mild symptoms were isolating at home as of last week, according to the Kyodo news agency, up from 26,000 from a week earlier.
Japan reported 12,073 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, up 43% percent from a week earlier, with Tokyo accounting for 2,884. That is the highest ever for a Monday, when the number of reported infections is typically lower than on other days.