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Japan Covid: 100 days to Tokyo Games 2021, but Japan has vaccinated less than 1% of the population

They are given a small bottle of hand sanitizer and two masks each.

“They are not talking about vaccines, they are not even talking about us being tested,” said German volunteer Barbara Holthus, director of Sophia University’s German Institute for Japanese Studies, in Tokyo.

This concern has been exacerbated by Japan’s struggle with a looming fourth wave. The country passed 500,000 total cases of coronavirus on Saturday, and some prefectures are tightening their Covid-19 restrictions again as daily infections grow. Hideaki Oka, a professor at Saitama Medical University, said Japan may not be able to contain the latest wave before the games begin on July 23.

While Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Monday reiterated his promise to secure 1
00 million vaccine doses by the end of June, Japan has so far only vaccinated approx. 1.1 million of its 126 million people – less than 1% of the population. Only 0.4% have received two doses.

Holthus said support for the games was meant to be a “once in a lifetime” option. “But now it’s just a really dangerous experience,” she said.

In a statement to CNN, Tokyo 2020 organizers said they were preparing to hold “safe and secure games without assuming there will be a vaccine and even without vaccines.”

“On the other hand, we hope that vaccines are administered correctly at home and abroad and that the infection will therefore be reduced as a whole,” the statement said.

A man wearing a protective mask to help curb the spread of coronavirus goes near advertising for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo at a downfall on Tuesday, April 6 in Tokyo.

Slow rollout of the vaccine

With a $ 25 billion Olympics to host, no doubt no country in Asia could have more incentive than Japan to get its Covid-19 cases under control and vaccinate the population.
Still, Japanese regulators were slow to approve Covid-19 vaccines compared to other governments and took more than two months to allow the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Its rollout began in early February, and seniors did not begin receiving their doses until April 12, according to Kyodo News.
Experts said part of the delay was due to official caution designed to avoid vaccine skepticism that has damaged previous vaccination efforts in Japan. Either way, this approach has left Japan lagging behind other Asian countries, such as China, which has administered 171 million vaccinations, and India, which has given 108 million doses.

“They say senior citizens should have a vaccination by June, but in reality, even medical staff treating Covid have not been vaccinated yet,” said Oka of Saitama Medical University, adding that he did not believe the June vaccination target. would be met.

Oka said the government should prioritize vaccinating all athletes entering the country for the Games, but the Japanese government has resisted this approach after media reports that the Olympics would be prioritized triggered a social media setback in Japan.
Osaka takes Olympic torch relay off public roads as it declares state of emergency in Covid-19 wave
Beijing had offered to supply vaccines to all athletes at the 2020 Olympics, but Tokyo rejected the offer, saying no Chinese-made options for use in Japan were yet allowed.

International spectators have been banned from the Games for trying to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading at the event. But more than 11,000 athletes from over 200 countries are expected to participate.

Without plans to vaccinate athletes, tens of thousands of participating volunteers have little chance of protection.

Holthus said Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto Seiko told volunteers during a Zoom call that she stood “on your smile” to make the Olympics a success – a particularly jarring requirement because they all wanted to wear masks.

“(We were told) ‘Your smile will make the Olympics exist’ and you wonder, are you making fun of me? ‘Said Holthus, who is scheduled to volunteer as a ticket collector.

A volunteer who attended an 80-minute lecture on infectious disease control for volunteers, said a Japanese top expert in infectious diseases told them they should not expect to be vaccinated before the event.

“(He said) unless you are older, there will not be enough time for ordinary people to be vaccinated,” said the volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid being excluded from her role in the Olympics. She said she felt angry and scared after the presentation.

The volunteer who had participated in previous Olympics said she was considering dropping out unless all volunteers were vaccinated. “Failure to do so shows ruthless disregard for our lives and the optimal safe environment that Japan as a host country is committed to providing,” she said.

Tokyo 2020 did not answer questions about the content of the presentation to volunteers.

Questions about athletes

Even countries with almost no infections have struggled to hold major sporting events during the pandemic.

In January, some players who arrived in Melbourne for the Australian Open tennis tournament on social media complained about the strict health screening measures they encountered. At one point, spectators were banned for several days in the middle of a small Covid-19 outbreak in the city.

For Japan, where there were 2,112 new cases on Tuesday, it will be a bigger challenge.

International spectators denied entry to Japan in Tokyo 2020
International participants need a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours before traveling to Japan, where they will be tested again, according to the Tokyo 2020 Playbook published by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on 21 February.

However, according to the IOC document, athletes will not be required to be quarantined for 14 days after arriving in Japan unless they have violated the country’s Covid-19 precautions or been potentially exposed to the virus.

During the Games, participants are “tested for Covid-19 at various intervals,” and all athletes and visitors are assigned a “Covid-19 liaison officer.”

International guests have been asked to leave their accommodation only to “go to official venues and limited additional locations”, where a list will be released in the second playbook to be published this month.

Clamps and high-fives must be avoided and public transport must not be used. A face mask should always be worn.

Tokyo 2020 organizers did not respond to questions about how social distancing measures would be maintained in the Olympic Village.

An Olympic super-spreader event?

While athletes in the Olympic Village will all have tested negative before arriving in Japan, they will inevitably come into contact with tens of thousands of untested volunteers who will switch between the Olympic venues and their homes.

The Tokyo 2020 website said volunteers should take public transportation to Olympic venues when they are volunteers. In Tokyo on Tuesday, there were 510 new confirmed cases of Covid-19.
In a statement to CNN, Tokyo 2020 said it had published a leaflet informing volunteers about Covid-19 countermeasures, including wearing a mask, washing hands and keeping a safe distance from others.

In response to a question about whether Tokyo 2020 events would be postponed because of Covid, the statement said the situation “changed every moment.”

Holthus said that in addition to the hand sanitizer and two face masks, game officials had offered volunteers a “health diary” where they could record their own health status.

“It’s going to be concentrated groups of people from all over the world mingling. What if there’s a cluster evolving in one of the Olympic venues? What if it’s coming from one of us?” she said.

Doctor: I'm worried the Olympics cannot be made safe against Covid

Oka, a professor at Saitama Medical University, shared the volunteers’ concerns, saying the games could enable the spread of dangerous Covid-19 variants, not only through Japan but around the world.

Oka said he was also concerned that Japan’s already stretched hospital system would not be able to cope if there was a sudden influx of athletes and volunteers infected with the virus. “As a specialist in infectious diseases, I cannot approve of holding the games in a situation where not enough vaccinations and adequate countermeasures have been taken,” he said.

In a statement to CNN, the organizing body in Tokyo 2020 said it had “high hopes” that the Covid-19 situation in Japan would improve before the Olympics. “We will continue to work closely with these parties as we prepare to deliver a safe game this summer,” the statement said.

Olympic volunteers Philbert Ono said he trusted the government and the IOC to keep the athletes and volunteers safe.

“The Japanese, they love to witness history. And you know this Olympics is very, very much a historic Olympics … this is going to be a very different Olympics. And that’s another thing I’m looking forward to,” he said. . . “I just want to see how they do it.”

But Holthus said she did not believe the games would continue with the current state of preparation, which was a “recipe for a super-spreading event.”

“We can not even imagine how bad it could be,” she said. “But the damage will happen when the games are held. There is no way to return when everyone flies in.”

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