(Adds politician's comments, Fukushima changes; paragraphs 10-16)
By Ian Ransom and Jonathan Barrett
TOKYO, July 1 (Reuters) - Samoa is withdrawing its weightlifting team from the Tokyo Games because of COVID-19 curbs, the chief of the Pacific nation's Olympic committee said on Thursday, just over three weeks before the event starts, although other athletes will attend.
The pullout is the latest setback for Japan's fraught efforts to stage the world's biggest sporting event during a pandemic, after it was delayed last year. The Games are set to begin on July 23.
"The only team that cannot travel is the weightlifting team, which is based here in Samoa," committee president Patrick Fepuleai told Reuters by telephone.
"We are still under a state of emergency, we're in lockdown."
But Samoa would have a presence at the Games, he said. "We are still sending a team to the Olympics," he added. "Our teams are scattered all around."
Polls consistently show a majority of Japanese still oppose holding the event this year, as medical experts have warned it could unleash another wave of infections and spawn new, more potent variants.
"It's terrible, it's disheartening, it's very disheartening," Samoa's weightlifting boss, Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork, told Reuters by telephone about the decision.
"I will now speak to my lifters this afternoon and share the very bad news."
Tokyo's new infections rose on Wednesday to 714, the highest in more than a month, as domestic media said officials were weighing an extension of prevention measures by as much as a month beyond July 12, the current end date.
The leader of one of Japan's ruling parties told reporters on Thursday that organisers should consider holding the Games without spectators, given the rise in infections, national broadcaster NHK said.
"I hope they make a timely decision, and consider the possibility of not allowing spectators," said Natsuo Yamaguchi, who is head of Komeito, the junior partner in the ruling coalition with the Liberal Democratic Party.
The COVID-19 situation has also led officials in the prefecture of Fukushima to cancel events planned to showcase its recovery from devastation by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which led to the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
"We have to cancel, given the current situation," Governor Masao Uchibori, told a news conference in a video on the prefecture's website. "I'm not going to lie - I resent this novel coronavirus."
Events to promote the region's food and other products, while giving spectators information on efforts to revive evacuated towns as areas get cleared of radiation fallout, will all be cancelled because of virus curbs.
The prefecture forever synonymous with nuclear calamity is to host baseball and softball events at a stadium about 70 km (41 miles) from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station owned by Tokyo Electric Power on the Pacific coast.
The cleanup of Daiichi will take decades and ranks as the most expensive and dangerous nuclear recovery yet attempted.
(Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in Sydney, Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Sakura Murakami in Tokyo; Writing by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
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