Olympic sized Covid problems for Japan ahead of the Summer Games
In this May 17, 2021, file photo, demonstrators protest against the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The IOC and Tokyo Olympic organizers start three days of virtual meetings Wednesday, May 19, 2021 and will run into some of the strongest medical-community opposition so far with the games set to open in just over eight weeks. | Koji Sasahara/AP

The 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games are now two months away, and the situation does not look good. Current polls show over 80 per cent of the population want the games cancelled. The results are not surprising following the extension of a Covid-19 state of emergency in Tokyo and nine other major cities.

Still, there have been no calls by officials to cancel the games.

On Monday, reports showed Japan mobilized military doctors and nurses to give Covid-19 vaccine shots to the elderly in Tokyo and Osaka. Japan’s desperate acceleration of its vaccine rollout is a last-ditch effort to curb the coronavirus outbreak as the countdown to the Summer Olympics ticks on and on.

Suga is committed to holding the Olympics in Tokyo after the one-year delay and has made a bold pledge to vaccinate the nation’s 36 million elderly by the end of July despite the scepticism it is even possible. Currently, Tokyo and nine other areas hold 40% of the country’s population and are under an emergency state.

Since April, Suga’s government has expanded the area and period of a mainly voluntary request-based coronavirus state of emergency and has made the measures stricter.

With coronavirus cases high and rising, Suga says vaccines are key in getting the infections under control. He has not made vaccination conditional for holding the Summer Olympics and has contracted with Pfizer to donate its vaccine for athletes through the IOC, whilst anti-Olympic feelings grow.

Speaking with reporters after a visit to a Tokyo vaccine centre, Suga said the rollout is an “unprecedented challenge.”

“We will do whatever it takes to accomplish the project so that the people can get vaccinated and return to their ordinary daily lives as soon as possible,” he said.

Suga’s goal is to vaccinate 10,0000 people per day in Tokyo and 5,000 per day in Osaka over the next three months. To accomplish this the two centres are now staffed by 280 military medical staff and 200 civilian nurses. Those who got their vaccine at either centre were the first in Japan to get the Moderna, Inc. vaccine, one of the two foreign-developed vaccines approved by the Japanese government, Friday, May 21.

Before, Japan had only used the Pfizer vaccine, and only an estimated two per cent of the population of 126 million had received both needed doses.

Organisers of the Tokyo Olympics say they have lowered the number of foreign athletes entering Japan, along with support staff, and media to around 69,000. Officials estimate 15,000 athletes to arrive, along with 10,000 coaches and team officials, plus 43,000 other credentialed personnel, like IOC staff.

Still, leading infections specialists in Japan say that number is too high and needs further cutting.

“Anything they can do to reduce the total number of people coming into Japan, they should do,” said Yoko Tsukamoto, a professor of infection control at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido.

“I don’t say that only because I’m worried that more people can come into Japan with new mutations of the virus, but also because we have a lot of cases here already, and foreigners could very easily be infected during the Games and then take it back to their home countries.”

The latest data shows there are over 720,000 cases of coronavirus in Japan, with 12,265 deaths attributed to the virus.


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.