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IOC reassures anxious Japan that Olympics will be safe

IOC reassures anxious Japan that Olympics will be safe

Demonstrators protest against the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Tokyo on Monday, May 17, 2021. (File photo: AP/Koji Sasahara)

TOKYO: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday (May 19) reassured an anxious Japan that the Tokyo Olympics will be safe for athletes as well as the host community amid mounting opposition to the Games and fears it will fuel a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Speaking in Tokyo alongside senior Japanese officials, IOC chief Thomas Bach said that more than 80 per cent of residents of the Olympics Village would be vaccinated or booked for vaccination ahead of the Games due to start on Jul 23.

He rejected mounting calls for the global sporting showpiece - already delayed once due to the pandemic - to be cancelled, saying other sporting events had proven that the Olympics could go ahead with strong COVID-19-safe precautions.

Bach's comments came as Japan continued to struggle with a fourth wave of infections and a slow vaccine roll-out which has undermined the public's already shaky confidence that the Games should go ahead.

"Together with our Japanese partners and friends, I can only re-emphasise this full commitment of the IOC to organise together safe Olympic and Paralympic games for everybody," Bach said.

"To accomplish this, we are now fully focused on the delivery of the Olympic Games."

Less than 30 per cent of medics in Japan's major cities had been vaccinated against COVID-19 with just 65 days to go before the start of Olympics, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Cabinet figures released this week showed that three months into Japan's COVID-19 vaccination push, less than 40 per cent of its medical workers were fully inoculated.

The problem is especially pronounced in Tokyo, host of the Games, and other large population centres, where the rate of fully vaccinated medical workers was less than 30 per cent, the Nikkei reported.

Much of the supply of vaccine was concentrated in large hospitals, and there had been problems in the reservation systems for medical staff, the newspaper said.

The slow roll-out for doctors and nurses has been among complaints cited by medical groups that have come out against holding the Games.

Bach pledged to ease the burden on local medical systems during the Olympics.

National Olympic Committees will be asked to arrange their own medical staff where possible, he said.

READ: Tokyo doctors call for cancellation of Olympic Games due to COVID-19

READ: More than 80 per cent of Japanese oppose Olympics this summer, poll finds

STATES OF EMERGENCY

Much of Japan, including the metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka, are under states of emergency until the end of the month to try to counter COVID-19 infections. The southern prefecture of Okinawa said on Wednesday that it would request its own emergency declaration as new infections reached record highs.

The government is aiming to inoculate most of its 36 million people over the age of 65 by the end of July. To reach that target, the government hopes to deliver about 1 million shots a day, about three times faster than the current pace.

So far, just 3.7 per cent of Japan's population of 126 million have gotten at least one vaccine shot, the lowest rate among wealthy countries. Initially, the holdup was scant supplies of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the only one approved by regulators so far.

But inbound shipments of the Pfizer shot have increased dramatically in May, and the government is expected to approve Moderna's candidate this week for use in mass vaccination centres. The shot developed by AstraZeneca is also being considered by domestic regulators.

As supply bottlenecks eased, problems with vaccine reservation systems and manpower shortages have cropped up. The government said on Wednesday that it is looking into allowing pharmacists to give the injections, after it made a similar ruling on dentists last month. 

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and its developments

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Source: Reuters/kg

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