Japan mass vaccinations begin in Tokyo and Osaka two months before Olympics

Japan has kicked off a mass vaccination programme for the elderly in Tokyo and Osaka, as the government desperately tries to accelerate its vaccination rollout and curb coronavirus infections just two months before hosting the Olympics.

Tokyo Olympics

Opinion polls in Japan have found a majority of the public is opposed to the Games, which are due to open on July 23.   -  REUTERS

Japan has kicked off a mass vaccination programme for the elderly in Tokyo and Osaka, as the government desperately tries to accelerate its vaccination rollout and curb coronavirus infections just two months before hosting the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the Olympics in Tokyo after a one-year delay and has made an ambitious pledge to finish vaccinating the country’s 36 million elderly by the end of July.

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Worries about public safety, while many Japanese remain unvaccinated, have prompted growing protests and calls for cancelling the Games set to start on July 23.

Currently, Tokyo and nine other areas that are home to 40 per cent of the country's population are under emergency and further extension is deemed unavoidable.

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With COVID-19 cases still persistently high, Suga now says vaccines are key to getting the infections under control. He has not made vaccinations conditional to holding the Olympics and has arranged for Pfizer to donate its vaccine for athletes through the International Olympic Committee while trying to speed up Japan's inoculation drive as anti-Olympic sentiment grows.

Officials are planning to vaccinate up to 5,000 people in Tokyo and 2,500 in Osaka every day with the recently approved Moderna jab, while in June and July this capacity is set to double.

“Speeding up the rollout makes us feel safer because it affects our social life and the economy,” said Munemitsu Watanabe, a 71-year-old office worker who got his first shot at the Tokyo centre. “If 80-90 per cent of the population gets vaccinated, I think we can hold the Olympics smoothly.”

Tokyo's sumo stadium used for vaccinations in virus fight

Tokyo's sumo stadium was turned into a vaccination centre on Monday with the aim of accelerating an inoculation programme that has lagged behind other developed countries.

The stadium, which will be used as a boxing venue during the Olympics, is located in Sumida Ward where around 25 percent of residents who are 65 years or older have got vaccinated once as of Monday. Of 759 applicants, 230 people were randomly selected by the ward officials. Some retired sumo wrestlers were vaccinated at the venue as well.

Unlike normal inoculation venues, those who got vaccinated at the stadium get to sit in the spectator stands and watch videos of sumo tournaments shown on screen for 15 minutes while healthcare providers observe them for any immediate reactions.

At the exit, people who got vaccinated can try a lottery which gives them a wide variety of sumo-themed souvenirs from KitKat chocolates with the picture of sumo wrestlers to pre-packaged curry.

Monday's event was a one-off this month but officials said that they were planning on using the stadium as an inoculation centre again sometime in June.

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