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Japan and the 2020 Summer Olympics in the Time of COVID

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As the start date for the 2020 Summer Olympics rolls closer, the calls from the public and healthcare professionals to cancel the event grow louder even as the COVID vaccine distribution schedule goes 7×24. This will still leave the majority of Japan’s citizens not inoculated when the games begin.

Tokyo 2020, officially the Games of the XXXII Olympiad, is scheduled to be held from 23 July 2021 to 8 August 2021 in the prefecture of Tokyo, Japan. Originally set for last year, the event was postponed until this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

As of March 2021, an announcement was made that due to COVID-19-related concerns, no international guests would be permitted to attend the 2020 Summer Olympics or Paralympics, including both spectators and the friends and family of participating athletes: overseas ticketholders will receive refunds. This decision was made due to uncertainties surrounding international travel restrictions, to preserve the safety of all participants and spectators and not place a burden on Japan’s health care system.

Japan’s COVID vaccines include all three brands, although the government has stated they will delay use of the AstraZeneca product (AZN.L) due to concerns over blood clots and bleeding being reported globally. The Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) product and the one co-developed by Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and BioNTech SE (22UAy.DE) have been used in Japan’s vaccination drive since February 2021. 

Japan has been very slow to inoculate citizens, with about seven percent of its population having currently received the shot. This gives Japan the slowest rate of inoculation among the world’s larger, rich countries according to Reuters’ global tracker. While there are plenty of doses available (344 million doses), government officials say a shortage of medical staff to administer the shots is causing delays. In Japan, only doctors and nurses are allowed to administer the COVID shots, with dentists also authorized but currently not being used. Japan does not permit the administration of COVID shots from pharmacists at drug stores or from volunteers with no formal medical background.

Japan began administering the COVID shot in April 2021 to the 36 million elderly citizens in the country, with about half a million getting their initial shots as of now. The government aims to finish administration of the second shot to this citizen group by the end of July 2021. These dates reflect the effort is behind schedule, with many municipalities requesting more time to complete the effort. Looking at the total population, there are health experts along with some officials saying it may take until Spring 2022 to complete vaccination of the entire population.

The government imposed state of emergency for Tokyo was lift on 20 June 2021, but the prefecture remains under intensive anti-virus measures until 11 July 2021.

Bars and restaurants cannot serve alcohol after 7 p.m., can operate until 8 p.m. 
Bars and restaurants – Customers can drink alone or in a group of two, but can stay no longer than 90 minutes – People should refrain from drinking in groups on the street or in parks
Department stores and other large-scale commercial facilities asked to shut by 8 p.m.
Event organizers to cap venue capacity up to 5,000 – Quiet participants allowed 100 percent capacity rate, shouting/cheering participants allowed 50 percent capacity rate if it is expected an audience will shout or cheer
Residents refrain from nonessential excursions, plus refrain from travel between prefectures
Companies asked to implement teleworking to reduce commuter totals by 70 percent


The Games Are Still a Go

A 23 June 2021 AP report stated…

The pressure to hold the games is largely financial for the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee (IOC), a nonprofit but highly commercial body that earns 91% of its income from broadcast rights and sponsorship. Estimates suggest a cancelation could cost the IOC $3 billion to $4 billion in broadcast rights income. The official cost of the Tokyo Olympics is $15.4 billion, but government audits suggest the cost is twice that. All but $6.7 billion is public money, with the IOC chipping in only about $1.5 billion to the overall cost.

While the games may still end up wowing television audiences who will tune in around the world, the pandemic has removed any sense of celebration. Athletes are meant to stay in the village or venues. Most others entering Japan for the Olympics can only shuttle between their hotels and venues for the first 14 days, must sign a pledge of follow the rules, and could have their movements monitored by GPS.

There will be no public viewing areas in Tokyo. The few fans who can attend venues must wear masks, social distance, refrain from cheering, and go straight home afterward. With spectators from overseas ruled out months ago, there is little business for hotels. 

Details of the opening ceremony are always kept a secret. But this time the questions are not about which celebrity will light the cauldron but rather will the athletes social distance and wear masks as they march through the venue.

The citizens of Japan continue to ask for another postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympics, fearing the COVID virus spreading, with polls indicating 86 percent are in favor of further delays. Bur the Japanese government will not be taking that action. After the previous one year delay, the XXXII Olympiad will finally be happening under the dark COVID pandemic cloud hanging over the proceedings. The show must go on.

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