Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Wednesday that the Tokyo Olympics may not take place next year unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained.
His comment has come as the Japanese capital city’s governor requested an extension of Japan’s state of emergency.
The International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government last month postponed the Games until July 2021 because of the coronavirus crisis.
With the epidemic’s worldwide infection rate climbing and experts suggesting a vaccine is a long way off, doubts have been raised about the chances of holding the huge event next year.
Abe said in response to an opposition lawmaker: “We’ve been saying the Olympic and Paralympic Games must be held in a complete form, in that athletes and spectators can all participate safely.
“It would be impossible to hold the Games in such a complete form unless the coronavirus pandemic is contained.”
Abe staked part of his legacy as Japan’s longest-serving premier on holding the Games and was hoping for a boom in tourism and consumer spending.
Japan gathered some $3 billion in domestic sponsorship, an Olympic record, and spent close to $13 billion on preparations.
The prime minister said on Wednesday that the Olympics “must be held in a way that shows (that) the world has won its battle against the coronavirus pandemic.”
He went on to caution that Japan should “brace for a protracted battle”.
Tokyo confirmed 47 new infections on Wednesday, private broadcaster Nippon Television reported.
The national tally stands at 13,895 infections, including 413 deaths, national broadcaster NHK said.
That tally is still low compared to other countries.
However, critics say Japan is not doing enough testing to reveal the scope of a problem that has driven some hospitals to the brink.
Reflecting that view, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike told reporters that the situation in the Japanese capital remained “difficult”.
He called on Abe’s cabinet to extend the nationwide emergency, which is due to end on May 6.
Abe’s comments echoed statements made by other senior Japanese officials this week.
Tokyo 2020 president Yoshiro Mori had told Nikkan Sports on Tuesday that the Games would be “scrapped” if they could not take place in 2021.
Also on Tuesday, the head of the Japan Medical Association (JMA), Yoshitake Yokokura, told a news briefing that “unless an effective vaccine is developed, I expect hosting the Olympics will be difficult”.