Olympic spirit is hard to find in Japan as vaccine rollout stumbles

FAN Editor

Tokyo — Organizers of the Summer Olympics are set to release an updated version of the “playbooks” that lay out the COVID-19 safety measures being put in place to enable the Tokyo Games to start as scheduled in less than three months. But despite vows to “deploy all possible countermeasures and place the highest priority on safety,” Japan’s slow vaccine rollout has left its citizens unconvinced that the massive international event can be held safely.

Games organizers have hosted nationwide festivities, including events around the Olympic torch relay, in recent months, hoping to drum up excitement as the Summer Games opening ceremony approaches.

But as CBS News correspondent Lucy Craft reports, even these precursor events have been held under heavy anti-COVID measures, often with spectators banned. That has made them a grim reminder of the risks facing Japan, as the country prepares to open its doors to tens of thousands of global athletes and their teams, according to political science professor Nancy Snow, of Japan’s Kyoto University of Foreign Studies.

“It looks like this is really becoming cringeworthy. Whenever there’s a ribbon-cutting exercise, or the announcement of the torch rally, there’s always some setback. So now, with the torch rally, it’s invisible – there are no cheering fans,” said Snow of the markedly toned-down events.

Torch relay kicks off 2021 Japan Olympics 01:41

As part of the new “playbook” guidelines, organizers announced on Wednesday that there would be mandatory daily coronavirus testing for athletes. While competitors are not expected to have to quarantine, athletes will be confined to the Olympic village, venues and training areas.

Support for the Olympics even among Japanese corporate sponsors has plummeted, Snow said, as anticipation has been replaced by anxious resignation. 

Only about 1% of the Japanese population have been inoculated against COVID-19 so far, and under current plans, most will still be unprotected when the Games begin in July.

A shopper walks past the official shop of the Tokyo Olympics
A shopper walks past the official shop of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 in Tokyo, April 25, 2021. James Matsumoto/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

Snow said she would describe Japan’s vaccination rollout as, “quite abysmal, right now.”

“The country is not going, really, to be vaccine-ready for the Olympics in July,” she said. “There is a sense of things not really under control, yet.”

On Wednesday, the head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, said he fully understood the decision by Japan’s leaders to declare a second state of emergency in Tokyo earlier this year as the rate of new COVID-19 infections climbed. But he said he remained committed, along with Japanese organizers, to holding a safe and successful Games.  

Tokyo 2020 Hold Five-Party Meeting
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach (on a screen) delivers an opening speech while Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee president Seiko Hashimoto (R) and Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike (L) listen during a five-party meeting of Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games on April 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. FRANCK ROBICHON/POOL/Getty

With the coronavirus still raging in a number of countries, however, there’s a possibility that the events of last year — when countries started dropping out of the then-2020 Summer Olympics, forcing the one-year postponement of the Games — could repeat themselves.

If that did happen, it’s fair to say that most Japanese would not be disappointed. 

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