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Japan ignored months of protests to host the Olympics. The opposition is still growing

Tokyo on Thursday registered its highest number yet of COVID-19 cases. Amid American triumphs in the gym and the pool, the reigning world champion pole vaulter Sam Kendricks was forced to leave after testing positive. The Japanese public is split between cheering the medal count and fearing the virus. Opposition to the games has only grown. Special correspondent Phoebe Amoroso reports from Tokyo.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tokyo today registered its highest number yet of COVID-19 cases, double what it was a week ago.

    And amid American triumphs in the gym and the pool, the reigning world champion pole vaulter, American Sam Kendricks, was forced to leave his quest after testing positive.

    For the host nation, much of the Japanese public is split between cheering the medal count and fearing a surge in infections, and opposition that began last year after the Games' initial delay has only grown.

    Special correspondent Phoebe Amoroso reports from Tokyo.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    Even on the opening day of the one-year-delayed Olympics, protesters took to the streets calling for their cancellation. One recent poll found 78 percent of the Japanese public say the Games should have been postponed again or canceled altogether.

  • Woman (through translator):

    I have never seen a government that doesn't listen to the voices like this one. They follow whatever the IOC wants. It's unacceptable.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    The motto of these Games is "United by Emotion." But feelings on the street show more emotion than unity.

  • Man (through translator):

    I want the prime minister to resign immediately. Even though the Games are being held without spectators, infections are spreading among athletes and staff. Having no spectators doesn't mean it's safe.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    Others are excited to be hosting the once-in-four years event.

  • Woman (through translator):

    Of course, it's important to keep the coronavirus in mind, but the athletes have trained to achieve their goals, and I think we should support and cheer for them.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    Organizers made it clear that the Games were going ahead, and the Japanese government has tried to reassure the Japanese people that their safety is a priority.

  • Yoshihide Suga, Japanese Prime Minister (through translator):

    Our fundamental approach is to take countermeasures to prevent Olympic athletes and staff from getting infected, so that they feel safe to be part of the Games, and so that we can protect the lives and health of the people of Japan.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    The prime minister's words did little to reassure these protesters, who continued taking to the streets, even during the opening ceremony.

    These streets aren't filled with cries of celebration, but shouts of protest. Many of these people say they have been demonstrating for months, and they say they're angry that their concerns have fallen on deaf ears.

    It's the spread of the pandemic that protesters say is their biggest concern. The country has now recorded more than 15,000 deaths from COVID-19, and its health care system is under pressure. There is a shortage of medical staff and hospital beds for severely ill COVID-19 patients.

    During the last wave of infections, some regions ran out of beds altogether. Amid a vaccine supply crunch, only 27 percent of the population is fully immunized.

    Mari works as a nurse in Tokyo.

  • Mari, Nurse (through translator):

    We are at the point where we can't hospitalize patients who would normally be hospitalized, due to a lack of beds. We have to ask them to come again the following day instead. We are not able to provide the health care that we are normally capable of.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    Mari says she and her colleagues are worried the Games will lead to a further loss of life.

  • Mari (through translator):

    It's really happening in this situation? That's the general reaction at my workplace. We're not even angry anymore. We feel disappointed and defeated. We feel like we have been used as disposable resources.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    The restrictions on daily life during the pandemic are fueling further resentment toward the Games. As part of Tokyo's state of emergency, people have been asked to stay home. Bars and restaurants must shut by 8:00 p.m. and refrain from serving alcohol.

    Kosaka opened a bar in October last year after Japan's second wave had passed. But the third wave soon struck, and he was forced to close. His bar sits empty, while thousands of Olympic competitors and officials are allowed to enter Japan without quarantine, and travel across the country for the Games.

  • Kosaka, Bar Owner:

    In this country, there is a — as you know, there is a democracy system. We can vote for someone. But, actually, in this situation, the leader has just carried out a double standard policy, yes. So, personally, I am angry.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    The cost of the Games is an issue for members of Hangorinnokai, No Olympics 2020 in English. It was formed back in 2013, when Japan first got the bid to host the event.

    Kumiko Sudo, No Olympics 2020 (through translator): In 2013, it was only two years after the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster. There were still many people evacuated, without any clear vision for their future.

    It was not a time for the Olympics. The recovery was not making any progress. Some people were so concerned about the radioactive contamination, they even evacuated from Tokyo.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    Their voices joined a global movement increasingly critical of the Olympics. It's growing harder to find host cities, due to the billions in costs that often balloon beyond budget.

  • Kumiko Sudo (through translator):

    The Olympics as a whole, all around the world, is forcing many people from the land they live on to make space to build venues. It's spending a huge amount of taxes. It's destroying the environment. And it's letting the police get stricter on security. It's an international event that is truly all pain, no gain.

  • Phoebe Amoroso:

    With Japan among the leaders in the medal count, some of the opposition is softening.

    But medical professionals are worried about group celebrations heightening the risk of the virus spreading. They warn that, as a festive atmosphere builds in Japan, these Olympic Games could end in tears.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Phoebe Amoroso in Tokyo.

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