International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates arrived in Japan on Tuesday, as organisers ramp up final preparations with just over five weeks until the pandemic-postponed Games open. Ahead of his arrival, several dozen people protested against the Games in Tokyo, though recent opinion polls suggest public opposition may be weakening. Later Tuesday, organisers will release the final version of their virus countermeasures for athletes in a so-called ‘playbook’ that they say will keep the event safe. They have already announced measures including daily testing for athletes and GPS tracking of journalists coming from abroad, in an attempt to reassure a sceptical public. National polls have regularly shown most people in Japan oppose holding the Games this summer, preferring either a postponement or cancellation. But with the first foreign athletes already in the country and Olympic officials arriving, there is some evidence that opposition may be declining. ‘I hope they will hold the Games with spectators,’ 54-year-old Michiyo Saito told AFP in Ota City, north of Tokyo, which is hosting Australia's softball team ahead of the Games. Several hundred residents turned out Tuesday to watch the team train. ‘They came from very far away, so I wanted to support them in any small way I can,’ Saito said. ‘I am scared of the coronavirus. But as they seem to have anti-virus measures in place, I thought it would be OK.’ - Emergency restrictions to end – A survey in early June found half of the Japanese public back holding the Games, and a new poll published late Monday showed 64 percent now support it going ahead. The new survey by national broadcaster NHK found 31 percent of respondents want the Games cancelled, down from 49 percent in May. In all, 64 percent said they want the Games to go ahead -- including 29 percent who favour a ban on spectators, 32 percent who want limited spectators and three percent who want no restrictions on fans. The poll did not give the option of postponement, which organisers have ruled out. Coates will be in quarantine for three days, according to local media, and subject to some restrictions on his movement after that. Japan's mandatory 14-day quarantine for overseas arrivals is being relaxed for Olympic participants. But organisers insist that Tokyo 2020 will be safe, with athletes tested daily and prevented from contact with Japan's public. Around 84 percent of athletes have already been vaccinated, Coates told the Australian Financial Review newspaper before departing for Tokyo. ‘We can never get to 100 percent, I don't imagine, but if we can try and identify who hasn't been vaccinated and ensure they're vaccinated,’ he said. Athletes from some Asian and African countries are being flown to Qatar for vaccines, while South American athletes are being flown to Miami and Houston for shots organised by the IOC, he said. Overseas fans have already been barred from the Games, with a decision on how many domestic spectators will be allowed expected in late June. The ruling will come after a virus state of emergency in Tokyo and other parts of the country, mainly requiring bars and restaurants to close early and stop serving alcohol, is lifted on June 20. Kyodo news agency reported late Monday that the government could keep some restrictions in place in Tokyo during the Games, potentially limiting the number of spectators who could attend. Japan has seen a smaller outbreak than many countries, with just over 14,000 deaths, but Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government has come under fire for its response. On Tuesday, opposition parties filed a motion of no confidence, but it is expected to fail given the government's large majority.
* State of emergency scheduled to end on June 20 * Some experts worried about an explosive outbreak after Games * Opposition calls for further delay or cancellation The Japanese government is considering ending a state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures as scheduled on June 20, but keeping some curbs such as on restaurant hours until the Olympics start in July, the Mainichi daily reported. New coronavirus infections in Olympics host Tokyo have inched down during the last month of emergency restrictions although authorities remain concerned about the spread of variants and the continued strain on medical resources. On Friday, the head of Japan's main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Yukio Edano, called for the global sporting event to be postponed or cancelled, warning there was an ‘extremely high risk’ of an explosive outbreak in August and September if they went ahead. The Mainichi newspaper reported on Friday the government would ask restaurants to keep shorter hours and impose other curbs under the targeted quasi-emergency measures. Bars and restaurants are now asked to close by 8 p.m. and are banned from serving alcohol. A final decision is expected late next week, a few days before the end of the current emergency state, which also covers the northern island of Hokkaido, host of the marathon event. Polls have shown many of the Japanese public oppose holding the Games this year, worried about the flood of athletes and officials from overseas. Japan has effectively been closed to foreign visitors since the pandemic broke out last year. The Japanese government and Olympic organisers have said the Games would go ahead - barring ‘Armageddon’, as one International Olympic Committee (IOC) member put it. The Olympics are scheduled to start on July 23. NOT TOO LATE A Tokyo 2020 Olympic coronavirus expert, Nobuhiko Okabe, said completely shutting out the virus would be too difficult and the focus should be on minimising risk. ‘Unfortunately, keeping the number (of coronavirus infections) to zero is impossible, so I believe the focus should be on minimizing the number as much as possible,’ he told a news conference, adding the cooperation of athletes and delegates was vital to prevent a major outbreak. Opposition leader Edano said it was not too late to cancel or postpone the Games. ‘I can understand the desire to go ahead for the sake of the athletes, but they should either postpone for another year or cancel the Games,’ Edano told a news conference. A team of experts led by government adviser Hiroshi Nishiura said this week Japan could be forced to declare another state of emergency in August if the current measures were lifted on June 20, since summer holidays and the Games could spark a rise in infections and the spread of new variants. In another potential headache for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government, the minister for digital transformation apologised for telling bureaucrats they should ‘threaten’ the developer of a smartphone app aimed at monitoring the health of foreign visitors to the Games to force a reduction in cost, media reported. Olympics organisers decided in March to ban spectators from abroad. Hirai's comments sparked outrage on social media. ‘As one responsible for the people's precious tax money, I strongly wanted to eradicate waste,’ Kyodo news agency quoted Takuya Hirai as telling reporters. ‘The expression was inappropriate and I want to be careful in future.’ Japan has recorded more than 760,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 13,800 deaths, while only 12% of its population has received at least one vaccination shot. Japan plans to finish vaccinating all those who want shots by October-November, Suga said in parliament this week.
The main coronavirus vaccination centre in the Japanese capital of Tokyo will begin booking shots for people under 65 from Saturday, media reported on Thursday, as it ramps up inoculation efforts before the 2020 Olympics open next month. Japan began vaccinating front-line 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 again or cancelled. Opening up vaccinations to most citizens may help the government ease concern 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. Vaccinations have mostly been left to local health authorities to carry out with some cities and towns vaccinating residents faster than others. 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 get shots, the Sankei newspaper reported. A spokeswoman at the Ministry of Defence, which operates the site, declined to comment on the telephone and did not immediately respond to an email. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday Japan aims to finish vaccinating everyone who wants a shot by October-November. That may require about 1 million injections a day. With less than 50 days before the Olympics open, Japan has vaccinated just over a tenth of its population with at least one dose. Organisers will this month decide whether to allow people in Japan to attend events. Spectators from abroad are not allowed. The Games have become a big political issue for the government given widespread public opposition to holding them during the pandemic. The financial stakes are also huge. The organiser estimates that the cost of the Olympics, including $3 billion resulting from last year's delay, will be more than $18 billion. 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 told a press briefing. Near Tokyo, Chiba 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.
When Olympics organisers shifted the marathon event from Tokyo to the northern city of Sapporo, they did so because of concerns about the intense summer heat in the Japanese capital. Two years down the track, critics say organisers have effectively leapt from the frying pan into the fire. Sapporo is currently under a Covid-19 state of emergency amid a resurgence in coronavirus infections. Officials in the city say they still don't have key information, including the number of athletes to expect and details on health facilities, while opposition from residents to hosting part of the world's biggest multi-sporting event has grown. ‘There's no action yet,’ said Takashi Okugi, a Sapporo city official in charge of Olympic preparations. ‘We don't have enough time.’ With less than two months to go, Hokkaido, the northernmost island where Sapporo is the main city, has the second-highest per capita Covid-19 rate in Japan, about 43% higher than that of Tokyo. Sapporo, which has a population of just under 2 million people, accounts for almost two-thirds of new cases. City officials and residents are nervous about the influx of athletes and support staff at a time when the city's medical system is already stretched. Okugi said officials have made repeated requests to the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee seeking essential details on issues including which hospitals would be designated to treat any infected participants. ‘So far a lot of answers that we are hearing are like no decision yet or still under consideration,’ Okugi said. ‘Without a clear structure, we can't figure out yet how much the city's medical system can be affected so we want information from the organising committee quickly.’ The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee said about 340 athletes planned to participate in the marathon and race walking events in Sapporo, but the number of staff and officials involved in the Sapporo competitions was currently under review. ‘We will continue to strive for the understanding and support of local residents through clear and careful communication,’ the committee told Reuters by email, adding that it holds working group meetings with Sapporo and Hokkaido officials every four to six weeks. Top Japanese government officials and Olympic organisers have pledged to hold a ‘safe and secure’ Games by implementing strict coronavirus measures. LOCAL OPPOSITION Sapporo early last month hosted a half marathon as a test event for the upcoming Games. All participants, including six international athletes, had to log their temperature and answer a health questionnaire daily in the week leading up to the event. With infections already on the rise in the city, organisers urged spectators not to come and watch the test race. Staff wore masks and sometimes face shields and plastic gloves. World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe gave the test event high marks, saying organisers were able to deliver both on the operation of the race and on their Covid-19 countermeasures. Organisers have already decided not to let in international spectators for the Games, but have yet to announce whether local spectators would be allowed to attend. Okugi said that uncertainty meant no plans had yet been made to accommodate spectators in Sapporo, which is also scheduled to host soccer matches and race-walk events during the Games in July and August. Many locals, who welcomed the Winter Olympics in 1972, are less keen on their summer cousin under the current circumstances. More than a dozen civic groups in Hokkaido prefecture this week submitted a petition to demand the governor cancel all events scheduled to take place in the city. ‘There's not enough hospital beds. Hokkaido's medical system is already collapsing,’ said Masamichi Nishio, a doctor and honourary director of Hokkaido Cancer Center, one of those representing the campaign. Takako Ishido, a Hokkaido prefecture official working on Olympics planning, said she agreed with petition organizers that the safety of residents was the priority. Ishido said it was difficult to assess infection risks without an estimate of likely visitors to the city and called for more detailed information from Games organisers. Nishio said many Sapporo residents with serious illnesses were unable to receive prompt treatment because hospital rooms were filled with Covid-19 cases. ‘Why should we have Olympics here? Who will be responsible for people who die from coronavirus after the Olympics?’ he said. ‘The government doesn’t care about our lives.’
* Govt adviser says Games carry some risks of spreading Covid-19 * Tokyo and other regions remain under state of emergency * Olympian turned health expert says risks can be managed * Japan Olymics-related staff to get vaccinated starting mid-June A top Japanese virologist and government adviser has said there was a risk of spreading Covid-19 infections during the Tokyo Olympics, the Times of London reported on Tuesday, the latest high-profile warning about the global sporting showpiece. Tohoku University professor Hiroshi Oshitani was an architect of Japan's "Three Cs” approach to the pandemic, which advises avoiding closed spaces, crowds and close contact situations. "The government and the organising committee, including the IOC (International Olympic Committee), keep saying they’re holding a safe Olympics. But everybody knows there is a risk. It’s 100 per cent impossible to have an Olympics with zero risk...of the spread of infection in Japan and also in other countries after the Olympics," the Times quoted Oshitani as telling the newspaper. "There are a number of countries that do not have many cases, and a number that don’t have any variants. We should not make the Olympics (an occasion) to spread the virus to these countries," he added, noting most countries lack vaccines. Already postponed from last year because of the pandemic, a scaled-down version of the Games with no foreign spectators is set to start on July 23 despite public fears the event could spread the coronavirus and drain medical resources. However, a former Olympian turned public health expert said she believed the Games can be pulled off with an acceptable level of risk. "There will be cases, but having one case or a couple of cases doesn't mean that it was a failure," Tara Kirk Sell, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Reuters on Tuesday. Playbooks from event organisers detailing testing regimes and movement restrictions for athletes and other visitors "outline a good strategy" for minimising contagion, Sell added. Media arriving from abroad to cover the Games will be closely monitored to ensure they don't leave pre-registered areas such as hotels and sports venues, Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto said. She also said Japan's Olympics-related staff were expected to start getting vaccinated in mid-June. "... we are still in a very difficult situation, but we have seen a gradual decrease of infections in Tokyo, and I am praying that the pandemic is brought under control as swiftly as possible," Hashimoto said at the start of a Tokyo 2020 board meeting. Japan has been spared the explosive outbreaks seen elsewhere but has recorded nearly 760,000 cases and more than 13,500 deaths. Tokyo and other regions are under a state of emergency as it battles a fourth wave which is straining hospitals. The government's top medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, said last week medical experts planned a statement on the Games by June 20, when the state of emergency is set to be lifted. A labour union in the northern island of Hokkaido, where the Olympic marathon will be held, petitioned its governor on Monday calling for the Games to be cancelled, media said. Japanese Olympic Committee board member Kaori Yamaguchi, a judo bronze medallist at the 1988 Games, said on Friday Japan had been "cornered" into pressing ahead with the Games. Japan's public remains divided about holding the Games, although opposition appears to be easing somewhat. A poll by broadcaster TBS this week showed 55% wanted the Games either postponed or cancelled - down 10 points from last month. Sell, a silver medallist swimmer at the 2004 Games in Athens, said accelerating vaccinations and ebbing case numbers in Japan are positive signs the Olympics can go on, but noted the risks involved in any type of international travel. "These Games are very much a symbol of the whole world emerging from this terrible, global pandemic," she said. "If we wanted to be as safe as possible, we'd never leave our house."
* Govt officials working to ensure ‘safe and secure’ Games * Foreign spectators already prohibited from attending * Most Japanese against hold Games during pandemic, polls show Half of the Japanese public think the 2020 Olympics will take place this summer, a survey by the Yomiuri daily newspaper showed on Monday, despite most people opposing holding the Games during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Olympics have already been postponed by a year amid concerns over how organisers can keep volunteers, athletes, officials and the Japanese public safe when they begin on July 23 after a fourth wave of infections. Opposition lawmakers grilled Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and cabinet ministers in parliament on Monday over the decision to press ahead with the event after several polls showed the public was not in favour. Top government officials repeatedly said that the government would continue to work on coronavirus measures for a ‘safe and secure’ Games, and that a decision on domestic spectators would be made this month. ‘Taking infection control measures for athletes and Games officials so athletes from the world can safely participate and to protect our people's lives and health, I think that is the premise of holding (the Olympics),’ Suga told lawmakers. In a Yomiuri survey conducted from June 4-6, 50% of respondents said the Games would happen this summer; 26% said they would take place without spectators. Some 48% said the event would be cancelled. But most of the respondents in the same poll said virus measures for athletes and participants were inadequate, while public support for the Suga administration hit its lowest level, at 37%. Foreign spectators are already prohibited from the Olympics and Japanese may also be kept away from what organisers promise will be a sanitised ‘bubble’ event to minimise contagion risk. HEALTH MORE IMPORTANT THAN EXCITEMENT Local authorities have scaled down Olympic torch relay events and host towns for Olympic athletes changed their minds. Saitama prefecture decided to cancel its plan to install two public viewing sites, Saitama governor Motohiro Ono said on Monday. Ono said prevention of infection was more important than excitement. Japanese Olympic Committee board member Kaori Yamaguchi, a judo bronze medallist at the 1988 Seoul Games, added to rancour around Japan when she said on Friday her nation had been ‘cornered’ into pressing ahead with the Games and accused the JOC of riding roughshod over public opinion. ‘What will these Olympics be for and for whom? The Games have already lost meaning and are being held just for the sake of them. I believe we have already missed the opportunity to cancel,’ she wrote in an opinion piece for Kyodo news agency. About 3,500 out of over 40,000 ‘city volunteers’ recruited by regional governments for the Olympics have pulled out, NHK reported. That adds to 10,000 volunteers who had already withdrawn, according to the organisers. One of the top trending topics on Twitter in Japan on Monday was news of Tokyo police investigating a death on the city's subway, which media reports said involved a senior official at the JOC. Private broadcaster Nippon Television, citing metropolitan police sources, identified the person as someone who worked in the JOC's accounting department and said his death was being treated as a suspected suicide. The police said they were investigating, but did not elaborate. A JOC representative said the committee was collecting information, but did not give details.
More than one million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine donated by Japan arrived in Taiwan on Friday, as the island struggles to secure jabs and accuses China of interference. The move stirred anger in Beijing, which views democratic and self-ruled Taiwan as its own territory and works to keep the island diplomatically isolated. ‘We have received requests from various countries and areas for the provision of vaccines,’ Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters in Tokyo. ‘At this point, we have finished the arrangement for the request from Taiwan. And we will deliver free of charge 1.24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines that have been produced in Japan.’ Taiwan's foreign ministry welcomed the move, pointedly emphasising that the countries ‘share the universal values of freedom and democracy’. Its health minister Chen Shih-chung later confirmed the jabs had arrived. ‘This is the largest batch of vaccines we have received and I believe it will be very helpful for our overall pandemic prevention,’ he said. Beijing accused Taiwan's ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of ‘placing political manipulations above people's lives’ by rejecting Chinese vaccines, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. President Tsai Ing-wen has accused China of having ‘interfered’ with efforts to secure Pfizer doses which are distributed in the Greater China region by a Shanghai-based pharmaceutical company. Beijing has stepped up military, diplomatic and economic pressure on Taipei since Tsai entered office five years ago, as she refuses to acknowledge its stance that the island is part of ‘one China’. Taiwan is currently locked out by China from the World Health Organization. The donation comes as Taiwan battles a sudden surge of cases, after having one of the world's best pandemic responses. Infections have jumped in recent weeks to more than 10,000, with 187 deaths. Taiwan wants to roll out mass inoculations in the next few months by setting up thousands of community vaccination stations to administer one million shots weekly, but it is struggling to secure enough doses. The country of 23.5 million has pre-order deals for around 30 million shots, but had received just 726,600 AstraZeneca doses and 150,000 Moderna shots before the Japanese donation. Taiwan is also included in plans outlined by Washington this week to distribute 80 million doses globally.
Japan is considering requiring fans attending the Tokyo Olympics to show negative Covid-19 test results or vaccination records, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Monday, as a new poll showed public opposition to the Games remained strong. With the opening of the Games less than two months away, public confidence has been shaken by a fourth wave of coronavirus infections and a slow vaccination rollout. Foreign spectators have already been banned and organisers are expected to make a decision next month on whether Japanese fans will be able to attend the Games and, if so, under what conditions. In addition to other coronavirus measures like banning loud cheering and high-fives, the Yomiuri said the government was considering whether spectators should be required to show a negative test result taken within a week of attending an Olympic event. The report provoked thousands of posts on social media criticising the country's continued push to host the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic. The term ‘negative test certificate’ was trending on Twitter in Japan, garnering over 26,000 tweets by Monday afternoon. ‘If you can't eat, cheer, or do high-fives, what's the point in paying for a ticket and an expensive test?’ asked a Twitter user, while others questioned the accuracy of such tests. Japan's top government spokesman Katsunobu Kato told reporters on Monday he was unaware of any decision on the issue. ‘In order to make the Games a success it's necessary to take into account the feelings of the people,’ Kato said, adding that organisers were preparing to ensure necessary infection prevention measures were in place to stage the event safely. The Tokyo Olympics organising committee did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on the report. Japan extended on Friday a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas to June 20. The country has seen a record number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition in recent days, even as the pace of new infections has slowed. In a poll published by the Nikkei paper on Monday, over 60% of respondents were in favour of canceling or delaying the Games, a result in line with previous polls by other media outlets. The Games have already been postponed once due to the pandemic but the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee have said the July 23-Aug. 8 event will go ahead under strict Covid-safe rules.
* State of emergency will last until a month before Games begin * Health system straining, concerns infections will rise * Public anger at IOC comments mounts * Risks for PM Suga ahead of leadership vote, election * Economy likely to contract in April-June quarter-economist Japan on Friday extended a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas by about three weeks to June 20 as the Covid-19 pandemic shows no signs of easing less than two months before the Summer Olympics open. The state of emergency in the capital and eight other prefectures had been scheduled to end on May 31, but strains on the medical system remain severe. Japan has seen a record number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition in recent days, even as the number of new infections has slowed. "In Osaka and Tokyo, the flow of people is starting to creep up, and there are concerns that infections will rise," Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, who also heads the country's coronavirus countermeasures, said at the start of a meeting with experts. The experts later approved the government proposal and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga officially announced the extensions. Worries about variants of the novel coronavirus and a slow vaccination drive have prompted urgent calls from doctors, some high-profile business executives, and hundreds of thousands of citizens to cancel the Olympic Games, due to start on July 23. Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have said the Games would go ahead under strict virus-prevention measures. IOC's senior official John Coates, who oversees the preparations, said last week the Games were on whether or not the host city, Tokyo, is under a state of emergency at the time. Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee President Seiko Hashimoto told a news conference she had received pledges from India - now battling a deadly second Covid-19 wave - and five other countries to vaccinate all their Olympic delegates as a measure against a new variant that has emerged in India. IOC President Thomas Bach has said 80% of the 10,500 athletes expected in Japan would be vaccinated and on Thursday urged Olympians to get their shots if they could. Delegates must also be tested before and after arrival. Comments by IOC officials appearing to dismiss Japanese concerns have sparked outrage on social media, including IOC's Bach telling an International Athletes Forum on Thursday: "Come with full confidence to Tokyo and get ready", calling Tokyo the "best prepared Olympic city ever". "I want to say 'shut up'," said one Twitter user. "Let's beat up on the IOC, which denigrates Japan, and halt these crazy Olympics." Japan has recorded about 727,000 coronavirus infections and 12,597 deaths so far. About 6% of its population has been vaccinated, according to Reuters data, the lowest among the world's larger, rich countries. Under the government's current plan, about 30% of the population would be vaccinated by the end of July, Nishimura said. After meeting with Japanese officials on Thursday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen backed Tokyo's hosting of the Olympics and said the European Union had authorised the export to Japan of more than 100 million vaccine doses, enough to inoculate about 40% of the population. International spectators will not be allowed for the Games but some 90,000 people including athletes and their delegations will be coming. No decision has been made yet on domestic fans and Tokyo 2020's Hashimoto said the situation regarding the state of emergency would need to be taken into account. Polls show a majority of Japanese want the Games, postponed last year due to Covid-19, either cancelled or put off again. That is a worry for Suga, whose support has slid over his handling of the response to Covid-19 and who faces a general election and a ruling party leadership race later this year. But cancellation would carry its own political risk for the premier, some ruling party lawmakers said. "The demerits would outweigh the merits," Liberal Democratic Party MP Hajime Funada told Reuters. "It would give the impression that Japan is in such dire straits it cannot hold the Games." Japan's latest emergency steps, unlike stricter measures in many countries, have focused mainly on asking eateries that serve alcohol to close and those that don't to shut down by 8 p.m. Nomura Research Institute executive economist Takahide Kiuchi said an extension of the states of emergency would mean the economy would likely contract in the current quarter, pushing it back into a recession.
The head of a Japanese doctors' union warned on Tuesday that holding the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, with tens of thousands of people from around the world, could lead to the emergence of an ‘Olympic’ strain of the coronavirus. Japan has pledged to hold a ‘safe and secure’ 2020 Olympics in Tokyo after a year-long postponement but it is struggling to contain a fourth wave of infections and preparing to extend a state of emergency in much of the country. Japanese officials, Olympics organisers and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have all vowed the Games will go ahead, albeit under strict virus-prevention measures. Foreign spectators have been banned and a decision on domestic ones is expected next month. But even with those steps, worries remain about the influx of athletes and officials into Japan, where a vaccination drive remains glacially slow, with just over 5% of the population having had a shot. With people from more than 200 nations and territories set to arrive, the Games, due to begin in eight weeks, pose a danger, said Naoto Ueyama, head of the Japan Doctors Union. ‘All of the different mutant strains of the virus which exist in different places will be concentrated and gathering here in Tokyo. We cannot deny the possibility of even a new strain of the virus potentially emerging,’ he told a news conference. ‘If such a situation were to arise, it could even mean a Tokyo Olympic strain of the virus being named in this way, which would be a huge tragedy and something which would be the target of criticism, even for 100 years.’ But Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute of Population Health at King’s College, London, who has recently been helping the vaccination campaign in Japan, played down dangers specific to the Games. ‘Mutation takes place when virus stays in immunocompromised or partially immunised people for a long period of time,’ Shibuya said. ‘So the current situation in Japan is more dangerous than (during) the Tokyo Games, in my opinion.’ STATE OF EMERGENCY The Asahi Shimbun, an official partner of the Tokyo Olympics, carried an editorial on Wednesday urging the Games be cancelled, but former IOC vice president Dick Pound said later in the day the sports extravaganza should and would go ahead. The government is currently preparing to extend a state of emergency across much of the nation originally set to be lifted on May 31, most likely well into June, officials have said - just weeks before the Games are set to open on July 23. But IOC member John Coates has said the Olympics could be held even under a state of emergency, an opinion Ueyama said was infuriating. ‘In regards to these statements, the people of Japan are indeed holding great anger towards this, and this is even more the case for healthcare and medical professionals,’ Ueyama said. Earlier this week, the United States advised against travel to Japan, but Olympics organisers have said this will not affect the Games. The White House on Wednesday said it had been assured by Japan'ss government that it will keep in close contact about concerns over the Olympics. In a sign of how uncertain the situation remains, however, Australia's major sports leagues and Olympic hopefuls were left scrambling to make contingency plans after authorities announced a seven-day lockdown in the southern state of Victoria to contain a Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne. Chiba prefecture, which borders Tokyo, announced on Thursday that it was cancelling its stretch of the Olympic torch relay out of safety concerns, becoming the latest area to scale back events.
Japan's Asahi Shimbun, an official partner of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, called for the Summer Games to be cancelled in an editorial on Wednesday, citing risks to public safety and strains on the medical system from the Covid-19 pandemic. Poll after poll has shown the majority of the public is opposed to holding the Games this summer, concerned about tens of thousands of athletes and officials descending on a country that has mostly remained closed to foreigners since last year and where vaccinations have proceeded slowly. Doctors' associations have protested holding the Games, investors have talked up the benefits of shelving them, and maverick businessmen such as Masayoshi Son have called for cancelling the games. That Asahi, one of Japan's most prestigious newspapers, broke ranks with other partners is likely to intensify focus on the viability of the Games. "We ask Prime Minister (Yoshihide) Suga to calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide on the cancellation of the event this summer," said the paper, a left-leaning daily often critical of Suga's ruling Liberal Democratic Party. "We are far from a situation in which everybody can be confident they will be 'safe and secure,'" the paper added, invoking the government mantra about the Games. "Sadly, that is not the reality." Several of Japan's other major dailies, such as the Nikkei, the Mainichi and the Yomiuri, are also Tokyo 2020 official partners. The Asahi's editorial was widely shared on social media, garnering more than 30,000 tweets by late morning. But Olympic organisers have dug in their heels, pointing to other successful sports events as evidence that the Games can go ahead as planned. "Even baseball matches are being held currently with spectators. Why not go ahead with the Games? It's good for the economy too," Kozo Yamamoto, a heavyweight politician of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and close aide to former premier Shinzo Abe, said in an interview with Reuters. "The Olympics will happen, even without spectators. ... Once it begins, everybody will be glad," he said. Much of Japan, including host city Tokyo, remains under a third state of emergency that is widely expected to be extended beyond this month, and although Japan has been spared the coronavirus ravages of overseas nations, it has struggled to control a fourth wave of infections across the country. Just over 5% of the nation has received vaccinations, and it has recorded about 719,000 infections and 12,394 deaths. Although the majority of the population remains unvaccinated, the Japan Olympic Committee is expecting to start inoculating the Japanese Olympic delegation from June 1, the organisation told Reuters on Wednesday. About 1,600 people, including athletes and coaches, will receive Pfizer shots that were donated by Pfizer separately from the national supply of vaccines. "We will have the team doctors of the respective sports federations administer the shots, so as not to impact the current vaccination roll-out programme," the JOC said. A professor of public health and adviser to the New Zealand government said on Tuesday that going ahead with the Games was "absurd" The United States on Monday issued an advisory against travel to Japan, but Japanese officials said it would not affect the Games, and the White House said on Tuesday it stood by the decision to hold the Games as planned. The Australian softball team is set to arrive in Japan on June 1 for a pre-Olympic training camp in Gunma, a prefecture about 150 km northwest of Tokyo.
Japan opened mass inoculation centres on Monday as the country races to vaccinate most of its elderly population against Covid-19 before the start of the Tokyo Olympics. The centres in Tokyo and Osaka will vaccinate thousands of people every day, giving a boost to Japan's sluggish inoculation drive as officials battle a fourth wave of infections. "It's better to get it early," said Tetsuya Urano, 66, who was among the first to be vaccinated in Tokyo. "It went pretty smoothly, all in all." The Tokyo facility will operate 12 hours a day to dispense shots to some 10,000 people daily for the next three months.REuters The site in Osaka, Japan's western metropolis, will build up to about 5,000 shots a day. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called for the centres last month to speed up the country's vaccination rollout. Large-scale inoculation sites operated by local governments also opened in the prefectures of Aichi, Miyagi, and Gunma. The fourth wave of infections has led authorities to make state of emergency declarations covering much of the country, including Tokyo, raising some concerns about the Olympic Games due to begin on July 23. The states of emergency for most regions are due to end on May 31, but the government is planning to extend them to June 20, the Yomiuri newspaper reported. Just 4.4% of Japan's population of 125 million have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Reuters' global tracker, the slowest rate among the world's larger, rich countries. Japan began its inoculation push in mid-February, later than most major economies. The campaign was slowed initially by scant supplies of imported doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE. But even as shipments increased, the rollout has been hampered by manpower shortages and malfunctions in the reservation system. The mass vaccination centres for the elderly are using Moderna Inc's vaccine, which was approved on Friday, along with AstraZeneca PLC's vaccine. On Monday, Johnson & Johnson said it had filed for regulatory approval of its one-shot candidate and it could begin supplying the country in early 2022.
Japan formally approved Moderna and AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccines on Friday, but the latter will not be used immediately because of lingering concern over very rare blood clots. The decision comes just over two months before the pandemic-postponed Olympics, with growing disquiet in Japan about the country's comparatively slow vaccine rollout. Nine regions including Tokyo are already under a virus state of emergency, with the measure now being expanded to Okinawa in the south. Until now, only the Pfizer-BioNTech was available in Japan, after being approved in February, and so far just two percent of the country's 125 million residents are fully vaccinated. In a statement, the health ministry said the two additional formulas had been approved. But a spokesman said discussion would continue on use of the AstraZeneca vaccine ‘while monitoring the situation in other countries’. Only medical workers and the elderly are so far eligible for vaccines, with no timeframe yet for expanding the rollout. Two mass vaccination centres operated by the military will open next week in Tokyo and Osaka to administer the two-shot Moderna vaccine, initially to the over-65s. There is no timeline yet for use of the AstraZeneca jab, which some countries have restricted or dropped from their vaccine campaigns over rare blood clot concerns, even though experts say the benefits outweigh the risks. Moderna's chief executive told the Nikkei newspaper on Friday that it was considering manufacturing the vaccine in Asia, possibly in Japan. International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach said this week that at least three-quarters of athletes and team members staying at Tokyo's Olympic village will be vaccinated before the Games, which open on July 23. Organisers insist the event can be held safely this summer, although public opinion remains largely opposed as infections surge in Japan. Nine regions including Tokyo are currently under a virus state of emergency that runs until May 31. But recent reports have suggested the measure could be extended for a second time. And on Friday, the southern island region of Okinawa will be added to the areas under the emergency measures for a period running from Sunday until June 20. Japan has seen a relatively small coronavirus outbreak, with around 12,000 deaths overall, but a recent surge in infections has put hospitals under strain, medics say. Japan has agreements with drug firms to provide enough vaccines for its entire population, including Moderna doses for 25 million people, Pfizer for 97 million people and AstraZeneca doses sufficient to vaccinate 60 million people.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Wednesday reassured an anxious Japan that the Tokyo Olympics will be safe for athletes as well as the host community amid mounting opposition to the Games and fears it will fuel a spike in Covid-19 cases. Speaking in Tokyo alongside senior Japanese officials, IOC chief Thomas Bach said more than 80% of residents of the Olympics Village would be vaccinated or booked for vaccination ahead of the Games due to start on July 23. He rejected mounting calls for the global sporting showpiece - already delayed once due to the pandemic - to be cancelled, saying other sporting events had proven that the Olympics could go ahead with strong COVID-safe precautions. Bach's comments came as Japan continued to struggle with a fourth wave of infections and a slow vaccine rollout which has undermined the public's already shaky confidence that the Games should go ahead. ‘Together with our Japanese partners and friends, I can only re-emphasise this full commitment of the IOC to organise together safe Olympic and Paralympic games for everybody. ‘To accomplish this, we are now fully focused on the delivery of the Olympic Games,’ he said. Less than 30% of medics in Japan's major cities had been vaccinated against Covid-19 with just 65 days to go before the start of Olympics, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Wednesday. Cabinet figures released this week showed that three months into Japan's Covid-19 vaccination push, less than 40% of its medical workers were fully inoculated. The problem is especially pronounced in Tokyo, host of the Games, and other large population centres, where the rate of fully vaccinated medical workers was less than 30%, the Nikkei reported. Much of the supply of vaccine was concentrated in large hospitals, and there had been problems in the reservation systems for medical staff, the newspaper said. The slow rollout for doctors and nurses has been among complaints cited by medical groups that have come out against holding the Games. Bach pledged to ease the burden on local medical systems during the Olympics. National Olympic Committees will be asked to arrange their own medical staff where possible, he said. STATES OF EMERGENCY Much of Japan, including the metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka, are under states of emergency until the end of the month to try to counter Covid-19 infections. The southern prefecture of Okinawa said on Wednesday it would request its own emergency declaration as new infections reached record highs. The government is aiming to inoculate most of its 36 million people over the age of 65 by the end of July. To reach that target, the government hopes to deliver about 1 million shots a day, about three times faster than the current pace. So far, just 3.7% of Japan's population of 126 million have gotten at least one vaccine shot, the lowest rate among wealthy countries. Initially, the holdup was scant supplies of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE , the only one approved by regulators so far. But inbound shipments of the Pfizer shot have increased dramatically in May, and the government is expected to approve Moderna Inc's candidate this week for use in mass vaccination centres. The shot developed by AstraZeneca PLC is also being considered by domestic regulators. As supply bottlenecks eased, problems with vaccine reservation systems and manpower shortages have cropped up. The government said on Wednesday it is looking into allowing pharmacists to give the injections, after it made a similar ruling on dentists last month.
A top medical organisation has thrown its weight behind calls to cancel the Tokyo Olympics saying hospitals are already overwhelmed as the country battles a spike in coronavirus infections less than three months from the start of the Games. The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association representing about 6,000 primary care doctors said hospitals in the Games host city ‘have their hands full and have almost no spare capacity’ amid a surge in infections. ‘We strongly request that the authorities convince the IOC (International Olympic Committee) that holding the Olympics is difficult and obtain its decision to cancel the Games,’ the association said in a May 14 open letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga which was posted to its website on Monday. A jump in infections has stoked alarm amid a shortage of medical staff and hospital beds in some areas of the Japanese capital, promoting the government to extend a third state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures until May 31. Doctors would soon face the added difficulty of dealing with heat exhaustion patients during the summer months and if the Olympics contributed to a rise in deaths ‘Japan will bear the maximum responsibility’, it added. Other health experts and medical groups have voiced their concerns about the Olympics, while an online petition calling for the Games to be cancelled was signed by hundreds of thousands of people. Overall, Japan has avoided an explosive spread of the virus experienced by other nations, but the government has come under sharp criticism for its sluggish vaccination roll-out. Only about 3.5% of its population of about 126 million has been vaccinated, according to a Reuters tracker. Underscoring the challenges with the vaccinations, booking systems for mass inoculation sites being launched in Tokyo and Osaka - which started accepting bookings on Monday - were marred by technical glitches. Still, Suga says Japan can host ‘a safe and secure Olympics’ while following appropriate Covid-19 containment measures. Preparations for the July 23-Aug. 8 Games are progressing under tight Covid-19 protocols, such as an athletics test event featuring 420 athletes in early May. But multiple pre-Olympic training camps, including one for the United States' track and field team have been cancelled, and athletes have voiced concerns about the Games taking place in the midst of a global pandemic. Canadian equastrian athlete and gold medalist Eric Lamaze announced on Monday that he had pulled out of being an Olympic candidate, citing personal health concerns. He has been treated for a brain tumor over the past three years. ‘My health is something that I take very seriously, and I've decided that Tokyo is not the best venue for me,’ Lamaze said in the statement. ‘The Olympics are a celebration of the athletes and I don't think we're going to have a true celebration in Tokyo,’ he added. ‘It's not the time to celebrate.’ The Games have already been postponed once due to the pandemic. With cases surging across much of Asia, the World Economic Forum on Monday cancelled its annual meeting of the global elite due to be held in Singapore in August. Under the state of emergency in parts of Japan, bars, restaurants, karaoke parlours and other places serving alcohol will remain closed, although large commercial facilities can re-open under shorter hours. Hard-hit Tokyo and Osaka will continue to keep these larger facilities closed. The number of Covid-19 cases nationwide dropped to 3,680 on Monday, the lowest level since April 26, according to public broadcaster NHK, but the number of heavy infections hit a record high of 1,235, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
More than 80 percent of Japanese oppose hosting the virus-postponed Olympics this year, a new poll published Monday showed, less than 10 weeks before the Tokyo Games. The latest survey comes after Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency Friday as the nation battles a fourth wave of virus infections. The surge has put pressure on the country's healthcare system, with medical professionals repeatedly warning about shortages and burnout. The weekend survey by the Asahi Shimbun daily found 43 percent of respondents want the 2020 Games cancelled, and 40 percent want a further postponement. Those figures are up from 35 percent who backed cancellation in a survey by the paper a month ago, and 34 percent who wanted a further delay. Only 14 percent support holding the Games this summer as scheduled, down from 28 percent, according to the poll of 1,527 replies from 3,191 telephone calls. If the Games do go ahead, 59 percent of respondents said they want no spectators, with 33 percent backing lower fan numbers and three percent a regular capacity Games. For months, polling has found a majority in Japan oppose holding the Games this summer. A separate poll by Kyodo News published Sunday showed 59.7 percent back cancellation, though further postponement was not listed as an option. Olympic organisers says tough anti-virus measures, including regular testing of athletes and a ban on overseas fans, will keep the Games safe. But the Kyodo poll found 87.7 percent of respondents worry that an influx of athletes and staff members from abroad may spread the virus. Asked about the polls, government spokesman Katsunobu Kato said the government would "make efforts so that the Japanese people understand the Tokyo Games will be held in a safe and secure manner". "We need to give explanations on details of the concrete (coronavirus) measures," he said, insisting that the Games would not put further pressure on medical services. Japan has seen a smaller virus outbreak than many countries, with fewer than 11,500 deaths so far. But the government has come under pressure for a comparatively slow vaccine rollout. The Kyodo poll found 85 percent of respondents considered the rollout slow, with 71.5 percent unhappy with the government's handling of the pandemic.
A Japanese journalist arrested while covering the aftermath of the Myanmar coup arrived in Tokyo yesterday, after charges against him were dropped as a diplomatic gesture. Yuki Kitazumi, held in Yangon’s Insein prison since his arrest last month, was one of at least 80 reporters detained during the junta’s crackdown on anti-coup dissent. Security forces have killed more than 780 people since protests erupted following the February 1 coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a local monitoring group. “I am in good health, both mentally and physically,” said Kitazumi after landing at Tokyo’s Narita airport. But he admitted he was “extremely frustrated” at being deported from Myanmar. “I am a journalist and I wanted to convey what was happening in Yangon,” he said, adding that he had collected harrowing testimonies from his fellow inmates in prison. “Some are deprived of meals for two days, others are questioned whilst being threatened with a weapon, or beaten if they try to deny (the allegations). “Thanks to my Japanese nationality, I was able to escape this type of treatment, but the reality is that many Burmese are being tortured.” Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said earlier that Tokyo had used “various channels” to press for Kitazumi’s release and that it had been “tough work”. “As a result of those efforts, yesterday the Myanmar authorities announced that they would withdraw the indictment,” he told reporters in Tokyo. The minister also announced that Japan has offered Myanmar $4mn in emergency food aid via the World Food Programme. The support is expected to help 600,000 people. “Food supply to the impoverished population in Yangon region is rapidly deteriorating amid this situation, and they are facing difficulties in even maintaining the most basic living conditions,” the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement. In late March, Japan had announced it was suspending new aid to Myanmar in response to the coup. “We have continued our calls on Myanmar to immediately stop violence, release those who are detained (political prisoners) and return to the democratic political process,” Motegi said. Myanmar state broadcaster MRTV announced Thursday that the charges against journalist Kitazumi were being dropped “in order to reconcile with Japan and improve our relationship”.State media said an earlier investigation found that Kitazumi “supported the protests”. He was charged under a newly revised provision in the penal code which criminalises spreading fake news, criticising the coup or encouraging disobedience among soldiers and civil servants. Those convicted can face up to three years in jail. Kitazumi, who had previously been arrested in February but released soon afterwards, was the first foreign journalist to be charged since the coup. A Polish photographer arrested while covering a protest in March was freed and deported after nearly two weeks in custody. As well as arresting reporters and photographers, the junta has also revoked broadcasting licences and ordered regular internet outages as it seeks to suppress news of the anti-coup protest movement. On Wednesday, a reporter for independent media outlet DVB, Min Nyo, was sentenced to three years in jail for criminal mutiny. Ko Aung Kyaw Oo, a former reporter for Tomorrow Journal, was arrested on Thursday afternoon, his son confirmed to AFP.
The first repatriation flight for Australians from Covid-ravaged India will arrive home on Saturday with the up to 150 citizens and permanent residents heading for two weeks of quarantine in an old mining camp in the remote Northern Territory. The flight will be the first after the lifting of a two-week ban on anyone coming from India, including Australian citizens, aimed at keeping out a fast-spreading variant of the novel coronavirus. India has reported more than 300,000 daily coronavirus infections for the past three weeks, overwhelming its health system. A military plane left Australia on Friday taking aid to India, a government source told Reuters. The plane will return with the stranded citizens, who must all test negative for Covid-19 before boarding. The passengers will then head to the converted mining camp in Howard Springs for their quarantine, a Northern Territory health department spokeswoman said. The government aims to more than the double capacity of the Howard Springs facility, 25 km (16 miles) southeast of the city of Darwin, to handle 2,000 people every two weeks from June. There are about 9,000 Australian citizens and permanent residents in India hoping to get home. Two more Royal Australian Air Force repatriation flights to the Northern Territory are scheduled this month, and authorities plan to repatriate about 1,000 people by the end of June. Vulnerable people will be given priority. Australia closed its international borders in March 2020 to all but citizens and permanent residents. Most returning travellers, except those from New Zealand, have had to quarantine in hotels for two weeks at their own expense. This system has largely helped Australia keep its Covid-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 29,950 cases and 910 deaths. Anyone caught breaking the two-week ban on anyone coming from India could face jail. The ban, which ends on Saturday, drew criticism from some lawmakers, expatriate Indians and members of the public.
Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency Friday, just 10 weeks before the Olympics, as campaigners submitted a petition with more than 350,000 signatures calling for the Games to be scrapped. With Tokyo and other areas already under emergency orders until the end of May, three more regions -- including northern Hokkaido, which will host the Olympic marathon -- now join them. ‘Today, we decided to add Hokkaido, Okayama and Hiroshima to the area under the state of emergency from May 16 to 31,’ Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced at a virus taskforce meeting. In these three regions, ‘the population is relatively big and the number of new cases is very rapidly increasing’, he said. The widening emergency, aimed at combatting a fourth wave putting Japan's medical system under strain, comes with public opinion firmly opposed to holding the Games this summer, fearing further infections. Kenji Utsunomiya, a former candidate for Tokyo governor, urged Games organisers to ‘prioritise life’ as he submitted the 351,000-signature petition to city authorities. ‘I think the Olympics this time is about whether we prioritise life or a ceremony and event called the Olympics,’ Utsunomiya said, urging Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to push for cancellation. The petition is also being sent to the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee, as well as local organisers and the national government. ‘Holding the Olympics under these circumstances means precious medical resources have to be set aside for the Games,’ Utsunomiya warned. On Thursday, a doctors' union warned it was ‘impossible’ to hold the Games safely during the pandemic, but organisers say virus countermeasures will keep the athletes and Japanese public safe. Tokyo 2020 chief Seiko Hashimoto told reporters she was aware of the concerns, but insisted strict rules would keep everyone safe. ‘We have announced very stringent antivirus measures,’ she told reporters. ‘We have to create a firm bubble and take the necessary restrictions to avoid putting strain on the medical system.’ - Japanese 'anger' – In an interview with AFP, International Paralympic Committee chief Andrew Parsons acknowledged Japanese ‘anger’ over the Games. But he said strict rules, including daily testing and limited movement for athletes, meant the chance they could infect anyone was ‘really remote’. ‘We want to provide this feeling of certainty,’ Parsons said. ‘Because we see that the anger comes from this concept that it's the Japanese population's safety versus the Games. I believe they can coexist.’ In recent days, organisers have held a string of successful test events, including with international athletes, which they say shows their protocols will work. World Athletics chief Sebastian Coe, who attended test events in Japan last week, said no major sports event so far has been a ‘super-spreader’. ‘The world does need to keep moving,’ Coe wrote in the Daily Mail. ‘At a time when football, rugby, tennis and athletics are all back functioning, and crowds slowly returning, it would seem odd to pull stumps on an Olympic Games where the protocols will be tougher than in any other walk of life and many competitors and their support teams will be arriving having been vaccinated.’ In Japan, however, one of the country's most prominent businessmen, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son, said he is ‘afraid’ of the Games going ahead. ‘I am very much afraid of having the Olympics,’ he told CNBC. ‘Not just Japan, but many countries they're having still a big, tough situation, I don't know how they can support sending athletes.’ In recent days several top Japanese sports stars, including tennis Grand Slam-winner Naomi Osaka and Masters golf champion Hideki Matsuyama, have expressed reservations about holding the Games during the pandemic. Utsunomiya said his petition would continue to gather signatures ‘until the cancellation is announced’, and brushed aside the cost of scrapping the massive event. ‘People's lives are more important than money,’ he said.
* Towns, prefectures concerned over scarce medical resources * Chiba prefecture says no preferential treatment for athletes * Medical adviser raises caution over holding Olympics Dozens of Japanese towns have abandoned plans to host Olympic athletes because of concern they will overburden stretched medical resources amid a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Thursday. Forty of more than 500 towns registered to welcome international competitors had decided not to accept athletes for training camps and cultural exchanges before the global sporting showpiece, the newspaper reported, citing a government source. The reluctance of some towns to host visiting athletes, normally a source of pride for communities outside the host city, is the latest sign of deep unease in Japan over the scheduling of the Games in the middle of a pandemic. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were postponed last year and are scheduled to take place from July 23 to Aug. 8 despite a surge in infections and a state of emergency in the host city. Other regions scheduled to host athletes have also been hard hit, including the eastern prefecture of Chiba, where the US track and field team had been due to have a training camp. The prefecture reported on Wednesday that the team had cancelled those plans. Chiba Governor Toshihito Kumagai said the prefecture would not guarantee hospital beds for athletes as they should not be given preferential treatment. ‘Chiba prefecture is not thinking about securing scarce hospital beds ... for athletes and people involved in the Olympic Games in a way that would prohibit our residents from using them,’ Kumagai told reporters. Shiro Hasegawa, an official in Okuizumo town, said it was no longer possible to host India's hockey team for pre-Games training as planned. ‘There's limited time and cost issues and it is impossible to have exchange activities between residents and athletes,’ he told Reuters. Overseas athletes will also not participate in a test event for the Olympics BMX freestyle cycling, the Yomiuri newspaper said. 'TOUGH TIME' Some municipalities have expressed concern about how Japan's medical system would cope if the Games turned into a superspreader event, concerns shared by Japan's top medical adviser. ‘It is extremely important to evaluate how much medical care will be burdened,’ medical adviser Shigeru Omi told lawmakers on Thursday, repeating concern he has raised since April. The International Olympic Committee on Wednesday said it supported Japanese measures to counter Covid-19 and was confident the Tokyo Olympics would be a historic event. Public opposition to the Games is growing as Japan struggles to contain new infections that are pushing medical resources to the brink. Some high-profile Japanese athletes are also questioning whether the Games should be held during a pandemic. Masters golf champion Hideki Matsuyama said on Wednesday he had ‘mixed feelings’ about the Olympics, after top women's tennis player, Naomi Osaka, raised concerns. ‘Japan is seeing a lot of new infections now and is going through a tough time, so I can't imagine just blindly pushing the Olympics forward,’ Matsuyama said at a news conference. The government has been criticised for not locking down hard enough and bungling the vaccine rollout, with only 2.8% of the population inoculated, the lowest rate among wealthy countries. To forestall a virus outbreak during the event, Japan is preparing to offer vaccinations to about 2,500 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and support staff, using donated shots. Japan reported more than 7,000 new infections on Wednesday, with 969 cases in Tokyo. A record 712 daily coronavirus cases were confirmed on Thursday in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido where the Olympic marathon will take place, according to the government.