Ahead of the Olympics, Japans vaccine minister says he fears a virus uptick in Tokyo

Ahead of the Olympics, Japan’s vaccine minister says he fears a virus uptick in Tokyo

Ahead of the Olympics, Japans vaccine minister says he fears a virus uptick in Tokyo Photo

Astrazeneca’s Covid vaccine is ‘very important’ for Japan, says ministerJapan is working closely with the International Olympic Committee to prepare for the Games and despite concerns about Covid-19 cases flaring, there are no plans to postpone, said Japan’s minister in charge of vaccinations.

“Unless they decide otherwise, we just simply need to prepare for the Games, how to control the situation. I think it changes almost every day, so they need to be prepared for that. But I don’t think they are thinking about postponing it,” Taro Kono told CNBC’s Martin Soong on Wednesday.

The Olympic torch was taken off the public streets of Osaka on Wednesday as the prefecture declared a state of emergency after coronavirus cases reached record highs.

“Yes, (the) situation in Osaka is especially worrying,” said Kono, who is also minister of regulatory reform. A new virus variant similar to the one first discovered in the U.K. is “quickly spreading” in Osaka, he added.

“We have identified a similar mutation in Tokyo, so we are worried (that) Tokyo may follow Osaka in a couple of weeks. So we really need to be paying attention to the situation,” he said.

The Summer Olympics are due to kick off officially in Tokyo on July 23, a little more than 100 days away. They were delayed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, the Games will be very much scaled back compared to previous years, as international spectators have been barred from entering the country due to concerns about over Covid-19.

“Well, unfortunately, we may not have so many spectators watching the game at the stadium but most of the people are going to be watching on television anyway,” Kono said.

Delays in Japan’s vaccine rolloutJapan is set to vaccinate the country’s senior citizens from Monday, moving into the next stage of its vaccine rollout that has been hampered by delays in vaccine deliveries.

Less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated so far, according to Kono — but he’s hopeful that inoculations will move into full swing in mid-May when vaccines from the European Union arrive.

“Unfortunately, we have not been able to develop a vaccine domestically, and we need to rely on import of (the) vaccine coming from EU,” Kono said. “Right now, we have authorized the Pfizer vaccine and it’s going to start for the senior citizens next Monday.”

He said the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will be “very important” because it is going to be manufactured in Japan, which would cut out some negotiations.

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