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Japan to vaccinate Olympic athletes before Games

TOKYO: Japan plans to vaccinate its Olympic athletes before the Tokyo Games, domestic media reported yesterday, a move that would place them ahead of the general population as the government faces pressure over a slow rollout. There was no immediate comment from Olympic organizers or Japan’s Olympic Committee on the reports in the Nikkei and Yomiuri Shimbun dailies, which did not name their sources. The newspapers said around 2,500 people including athletes and coaches would be included, with Japanese sports federations in charge of administering the jabs.

Japan’s government had previously denied it was considering a plan to vaccinate athletes ahead of the general population. Earlier this month, US drug giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced a deal with the International Olympic Committee to provide vaccines for competitors and staff at the Tokyo Games.

They said initial doses for participating delegations would begin at the end of May, without specifying which teams would be involved. Japan has so far only approved the Pfizer jab and the government has faced pressure over the comparatively slow rollout of its inoculation campaign as Tokyo and other areas battle new virus emergencies. For now, only medical workers and the elderly are eligible for jabs, with no timeline yet set for the general population to receive them. Polls show public dissatisfaction with the rollout, and the government has pledged to speed up the program.

The Games, opening in just over 10 weeks, face continued controversy in Japan, where surveys show a majority oppose holding them this summer. But in a potential bright spot for organizers, around 280 doctors have applied for just 200 volunteer positions at the Games, the Kyodo news agency reported yesterday, citing unnamed sources.

Organizers have come under fire for requesting medical volunteers step forward to help during the Games at a time when Japan’s healthcare system is under pressure from a fourth virus wave. Despite public opposition, organizers insist the Games can be held safely this summer, pointing to safety guidelines, increasing vaccination of athletes and a series of recent test events in Tokyo.

A spokesman for Toyota, a top Olympic sponsor, gave an ambivalent response when asked about their view on the Games. “We are anxiously thinking every day about what is the best way,” Toyota’s chief communication officer Jun Nagata told reporters.

“The spirit of the Olympics and Paralympics… is based on the premise that athletes as well as people in Japan are in a safe environment,” he said. “Part of Japanese people’s frustration has been directed at athletes, probably because of worries over medicine. We as a sponsor really regret that.” – AFP


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