REUTERS NEXT-Suntory CEO not certain Japan can hold Olympics, should know by end-March

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TOKYO, Jan 13 (Reuters) - The head of Japanese beverage group Suntory Holdings, who is also a government adviser, said he was uncertain whether Japan can host the Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic, and that the decision would likely be made by end-March.

“I’m not sure whether we’ll be able to hold the Tokyo Olympics or not,” Suntory CEO Takeshi Niinami, an economic adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, told Reuters in an online interview on Wednesday.

“But it’s a great message to the world, as overcoming the battle against COVID. Definitely, we should make every effort.”

Japan initially managed to avoid the kind of explosion in coronavirus cases seen in countries such as the United States, but infections have risen steadily. The government said on Wednesday it would expand a state of emergency it declared for the Tokyo area last week to seven more prefectures.

Government officials insist they are preparing for the Olympics this summer as planned, following last year’s postponement because of the pandemic. But polls have shown the public’s hope for the Games has faded.

Niinami said that a decision will likely be made by the end of March, as the third wave of infections will likely continue through the end of February or early March.

Niinami had also been adviser to former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, under whose leadership Japan aggressively bid to host the Olympics and courted foreign investment in the hospitality sector.

For more coverage from the Reuters Next conference please click here (Full Story) or To watch Reuters Next live, visit here (Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Writing by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Kim Coghill)