Tokyo finally starts to vaccinate the under-65s in race against time ahead of next month’s Olympics amid fears fourth wave of Covid infections could yet see the Games cancelled
A mass vaccination centre in Tokyo will begin booking Covid jabs for people under 65 from Saturday, the Sankei Newspaper reported on Thursday, as Japan ramps up efforts to inoculate people before the 2020 Olympics open next month.
Japan began vaccinating frontline health workers and elderly people in February, but the slow pace compared with other major industrialised nations has spurred calls for the Tokyo Games to be delayed once more, or even cancelled.
Many Japanese are worried the country is unprepared to host tens of thousands of foreign athletes and Olympic officials as its healthcare system struggles with a fourth wave of infections.
Tokyo officials are doing all they can to ensure the Olympics can go ahead in the city in July
The Tokyo vaccination centre will also begin taking appointments by telephone for the first time from Saturday, in addition to online bookings in a bid to encourage more people to use the centre.
A spokeswoman at the Ministry of Defence, which operates the site, declined to comment.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday that Japan aims to finish vaccinating all citizens requesting shots by November at the latest. That may require around 1 million injections a day.
With less than 50 days before the Olympics begin, Japan has vaccinated just over a tenth of its population with at least one dose. Organisers this month will decide whether to allow people in Japan to attend events after earlier banning overseas spectators.
The Japanese capital is ramping up its attempts to vaccinate as many citizens as possible
In a sign of continued concern about the risk of more infections during the Games, however, the governor of Chiba prefecture on Thursday cancelled plans for an outdoor Olympic viewing site in a park that would have drawn thousands of people.
‘We have decided to cancel plans for the live site,’ Toshihito Kumagai said at a press briefing broadcast by local media.
Neighbouring Tokyo, Chiba prefecture is due to host four Olympic events – surfing, fencing, wrestling and taekwondo – and four Paralympic events. On Wednesday, the prefecture recorded 106 new COVID-19 cases compared with 440 in Tokyo.
The president of Tokyo 2020 has insisted the Olympic Games will ‘100 per cent’ be going ahead despite calls from the public for them to be cancelled.
Seiko Hashimoto insists at worst the Games – which could attract up to 90,000 athletes, coaches, media and officials from overseas – will take place behind closed doors.
‘I believe that the possibility of these Games going on is 100 per cent that we will do this,’ she told BBC Sport.
Japan citizens have even taken to the streets to show their disapproval and anger at plans
‘The biggest challenge will be how we can control and manage the flow of people. If an outbreak should happen during the Games times that amounts to a crisis or an emergency situation then I believe we must be prepared to have these Games without any spectators.’
However, there are still plenty of voices protesting the Games going ahead, with one voice even suggesting the athletes themselves should be protesting.
Kaori Yamaguchi, who is a senior member of Japan’s Olympic committee and former Olympic medallist, said Japan had been ‘cornered’ into hosting the Games and added: ‘The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them.
‘We have been cornered into a situation where we cannot even stop now. We are damned if we do and damned if we do not.
The Games are due to begin on Friday July 23, before the closing ceremony two weeks later on Saturday August 8.
To date, Japan has recorded 768,000 cases, and 13,801 deaths from coronavirus. In Tokyo alone, there have been 165,000 cases and 2,112.
The current seven-day average for new infections in the country is 2,207.