Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

12.19 25 May 2021


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After being pushed back a year, the Tokyo Olympics are now scheduled to start in just two months' time.

As the July 23rd opening ceremony fast approaches, there's increasing opposition within Japan to the games going ahead as planned.

Surveys have shown a vast majority of citizens - over 80% - want the summer games cancelled or postponed, as the country deals with a fresh coronavirus surge and a slow vaccine rollout.

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Meanwhile, several major urban areas including Tokyo and Osaka remain in a state of emergency due to the pandemic, while the US has issued a travel alert urging its citizens not to travel to Japan.

Matt Alt - a Tokyo-based journalist for the New Yorker - told The Pat Kenny Show this is all proving a "major, major problem" for Japan.

He said: "The biggest problem right now is that we’re facing a fourth wave of infections.

"Tokyo, along with several other major urban areas, are in the midst of a state of emergency that’s due to last through May 31st, and many expect it’s going to go even longer.”

Even the Olympic torch relay has seen several confirmed COVID-19 cases among officials - some of whom had been holding up signs urging people to adhere to social distancing.

Slow vaccine rollout

Mr Alt explained that vaccination is “off to a very slow start” in Japan.

Just one-third of medical professionals in Tokyo are currently vaccinated, while only about 150,000 out of 1.8 million elderly residents have gotten both of their doses.

Pfizer is the only jab approved for use in Japan, while even the process of vaccinating someone is said to be slower and more cautious than elsewhere in the world.

Japan's Self Defence Forces have helped build large-scale vaccination centres in Tokyo and Osaka, but they're not yet operating at the same scale that's been seen in Europe or the US.

While the vaccination programme is expected to ramp up soon, vaccination of under-65s is not expected to begin before the Games - meaning even local volunteers won't be vaccinated.

Mr Alt said the Japanese government has run into many "logistical and regulatory hurdles" that have slowed down the vaccine rollout.

He explained: “Facing this, a lot of citizens have a lot of trepidation about hosting a major, international athletics competition… and unfortunately Japan’s politicians and political leadership have not done a whole lot to allay fears.

“This is usually supposed to be a time of celebration for a country, but at the moment it’s a time of great trepidation.

“It’s leading everyone to continue to ask 'how on Earth is this going to unfold safely?’”.

Many athletes - including Irish ones - are expected to be fully vaccinated before travelling to Tokyo, and participants will be asked to stay in the Olympic Village for the duration of the game.

However, not all teams will be vaccinated - and Mr Alt said it remains unclear whether there'll be penalties for athletes who leave the dedicated area.

He suggested the “potential for sparking clusters is very real”.

Main image: Protesters wearing masks hold signs in a line to form the words "2020 No! Olympics" during an anti Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Rally in Ginza district. Picture by: SOPA Images/SIPA USA/PA Images

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