Tokyo – Theare less than two months away and the host city is still in a state of emergency due to the high rate of COVID-19 infections. While the number of new cases recorded daily has recently declined, as it prepares to welcome tens of thousands of athletes, media, staff and other foreign participants to the Games.
The Japanese government is basing its hopes of staging a safe event – and protecting and reassuring its own population – on a late rollout of vaccination.
Japan has lagged behind when it comes to vaccinations: only around 4% of the population has been fully vaccinated so far. The delay is largely due to the fact that it took Japan much longer than most other countries to approve a COVID-19 vaccine and the restrictions on who can give the injections.
But in recent days, the pace has accelerated considerably, in part thanks to the opening of mass vaccination centers. The government has also now allowed large corporations and universities to set up their own vaccination clinics, potentially reaching nearly 5 million people.
Authorities have said they are on track to vaccinate most of Japan’s elderly by the end of July, when the Tokyo Olympics begin.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the International Olympic Committee have continued to insist that the Games can take place without compromising public health.
Foreign spectators will not be allowed at the Olympics, but with the pace of vaccinations accelerating, Japan is reportedly leaning towards allowing domestic spectators to attend the Games – perhaps half-filling venues.
However, that does not suit the government’s own health experts, who warn that allowing crowds to move around the city during the Olympics risks triggering a new wave of coronavirus infections. The government is already urging Tokyo residents to work from home during the Games.
Next week, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee is expected to release the final edition of its so-called “playbook,” the detailed operations manual dictating exactly how it will run the Olympics safely amid a pandemic. .