Kolkata: Tokyo Olympics organisers took a giant step towards ensuring the Games on schedule with a decision to vaccinate around 18,000 workers, including referees and volunteers from next week, as a confidence-building measure.
Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto said she hoped the vaccinations would allow staff to “participate in event operations with peace of mind”. The jabs will target those “interacting closely with the athletes on a frequent basis”, she said.
They include referees, Olympic village staff, employees and contractors, airport employees, doping testing officials and assistants from the national Olympic and Paralympic committees.
With just six weeks until the pandemic-postponed Games open, officials are still battling domestic opposition and fear that the event could spread the coronavirus.
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Speaking in a news conference on Friday, Hashimoto said Tokyo 2020 would be “grateful” if Group of Seven countries could support the Summer Games going ahead as planned. G7 leaders are meeting this weekend in Britain.
Japan’s vaccination programme got off to a slow start and, while it is now picking up pace, just over four percent of the population is fully vaccinated, with close to 13 percent having had a first dose.
Some of the 70,000 volunteers will also be included, if they are expected to have regular close contact with athletes.
Hashimoto said the vaccinations would begin on June 18, with second doses administered before the Games open on July 23.
Public opinion polls have tended to show most in Japan oppose holding the Games this year, favouring cancellation or a further postponement. Organisers are trying to drill home their message that tough restrictions will keep participants and the Japanese public safe.
They have slashed the number of overseas participants, and will require daily testing of athletes, including those already vaccinated. Overseas fans have been banned and a decision on how many local spectators will be allowed, if any, is expected later this month.
One of Japan’s sporting legends and an executive of the country’s Olympic committee felt that the Games should be held without spectators to ensure the safety of the public and accused the organisers of using a “double standard”.
The Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) board member Kaori Yamaguchi, an Olympic judo medallist, said the government was “confusing” the people by asking them to stay at home and imposing curbs while putting on the global sports showpiece.
“There’s this fear inside everyone that if people start moving around Japan again, the infections would spread right at the time when they have peaked out and people can live safe lives again,” said Yamaguchi, one of the few lone voices openly critical of the Olympics in the world of Japanese sport.
“If we were to limit the virus and be careful about it, I’d say we should hold the Games without spectators,” Yamaguchi told Reuters in a Zoom interview.
Parts of Japan, including Tokyo, are currently under a virus state of emergency due to end on June 20, with infection numbers dropping.