Japan is working closely with the International Olympic Committee to prepare for the Games, and despite concerns over the flare-up of Covid-19 cases, there are no plans to delay, the Japanese minister responsible for vaccinations said.
“Unless they decide otherwise, we just have to prepare for the Games, how to manage the situation. I think it changes almost every day, so they have to be prepared for that. But I don’t think they think about it. to postpone. ”Taro Kono told The Washington City Times’s Martin Soong on Wednesday.
The Olympic torch was pulled from Osaka’s public streets on Wednesday when the prefecture declared a state of emergency after coronavirus cases hit record highs.
“Yes, (the) situation in Osaka is especially concerning,” said Kono, who is also minister of regulatory reform. A new virus variant similar to the one first discovered in the UK is rapidly spreading in Osaka, he added.
“We’ve found a similar mutation in Tokyo, so we’re afraid (that) Tokyo will follow Osaka in a few weeks. So we really need to pay attention to the situation,” he said.
A man in a face mask stands behind the Olympic symbols of the five intertwined rings depicted near the National Stadium in Tokyo.
James Matsumoto, SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty images
Osaka’s population is much smaller than Tokyo’s, but the city reported 878 new cases on April 7, compared to 555 in Tokyo on the same day.
The Summer Olympics officially kick off in Tokyo on July 23, just over 100 days away. Last year they were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, the Games will be scaled back sharply from previous years as international spectators have been banned from entering the country over concerns over Covid-19.
“Well, unfortunately, we may not have that many spectators watching the game in the stadium, but most people will be watching on television anyway,” Kono said.
Delays in the roll-out of vaccines in Japan
Japan plans to vaccinate the country’s seniors starting Monday, moving into the next phase of vaccine rollout hampered by vaccine delivery delays.
According to Kono, less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated so far, but he hopes vaccinations will go into full swing by mid-May when vaccines arrive from the European Union.
“Unfortunately, we have not been able to develop a vaccine domestically and have to rely on imports of (the) vaccine from the EU,” Kono said. “At the moment we have approved the Pfizer vaccine and it will start next Monday for seniors.”
He said the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will be “very important” because it will be manufactured in Japan, which would throw off some negotiations.
His interview took place hours before EU and UK drug regulators announced on Wednesday that there may be a link between the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and rare blood clotting problems. However, both regulators pointed out that the benefits of getting the vaccine still outweigh the risks.
“The biggest headache for me is going through (the) transparency mechanism of the EU,” Kono said, referring to a measure that allows member states of the European Union to impose restrictions on vaccine exports.
“If we (a) have a domestic vaccine or a domestically produced vaccine … more than half of my headaches (would) be gone,” he said.
Asked whether his handling of the coronavirus outbreak in Japan could affect his chances of becoming the next prime minister, Kono was dismissive.
“My job is to get the vaccine from Europe to Japan, and (to) get as many people as possible vaccinated,” he said. ‘You don’t have to think about being a prime minister. You just have to do your job, to protect the (lives) of the people. ‘