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Japan hit by Covid fourth wave three months before Olympics as host towns refuse to house athletes

Japanese towns and cities which are set to host Olympic teams are now refusing to house athletes due to costly safety measures amid a fourth wave of coronavirus in the country. 

The western town of Okuizumo spent more than $5 million preparing to welcome India‘s hockey team for a pre-Games training camp, only to scrap the visit because of Covid-19.

After spending money on upgrading sports facilities, Okuizomo balked when it became clear it would have to provide bubble-like biosecurity measures with regular virus tests and medical care.

‘We wanted to have one of the world’s top tier teams visit our town and show their skills to local children,’ town official Katsumi Nagase said. ‘But that seems impossible now.’ 

It comes as Japan is grappling with a fourth wave of coronavirus just three months before the scheduled start of the Tokyo Olympic games. 

Japanese towns and cities which are set to host Olympic teams are now refusing to house athletes due to costly safety measures amid a fourth wave of coronavirus in the country 

Japan is grappling with a fourth wave of coronavirus just three months before the scheduled start of the Tokyo Olympic games. While Japan experienced a dip in Covid-19 cases in early March with around 1,100 cases per day, the number of infections has risen rapidly in recent weeks with more than 5,600 new cases reported on Saturday

Japan is grappling with a fourth wave of coronavirus just three months before the scheduled start of the Tokyo Olympic games. While Japan experienced a dip in Covid-19 cases in early March with around 1,100 cases per day, the number of infections has risen rapidly in recent weeks with more than 5,600 new cases reported on Saturday

The country imposed a third state of emergency in its major centres on Sunday with bars, department stores and theatres closed. Japan also announced a mass vaccination centre in central Tokyo next month in an attempt to stifle soaring Covid-19 infections.   

While Japan experienced a dip in Covid-19 cases in early March with around 1,100 cases per day, the number of infections has risen rapidly in recent weeks with more than 5,600 new cases reported on Saturday.

More than 500 municipalities signed up to host athletes and officials in a scheme aimed at broadening the Olympics’ benefits beyond Tokyo.

Some, like Okuizumo, have already scrapped plans to host overseas athletes, while others are devising careful programmes they hope will keep everyone safe.

Instead of giving residents the chance to meet elite athletes and try out new sports, towns will have to ditch any physical contact, school visits and public training sessions.

Kurihara city in northern Miyagi prefecture was planning to host South Africa’s hockey team, but decided the expense was no longer worth it given the limitations imposed by virus measures.

‘It’s a project that will use our tax resources,’ Hidenori Sasaki, an official with the local board of education, said.

‘If it becomes just athletes holding a training camp without any exchanges with local residents, local citizens won’t enjoy the benefits.’

The country imposed a third state of emergency in its major centres on Sunday with bars, department stores and theatres closed. Pictured: A bar is seen closed during the state of emergency on April 25

The country imposed a third state of emergency in its major centres on Sunday with bars, department stores and theatres closed. Pictured: A bar is seen closed during the state of emergency on April 25

In some cases, Olympic teams have cancelled, worried about the risk of infection before the Games.

Australia’s swimming team ditched its plan to train in Niigata’s Nagaoka city, its mayor told media in March.

And Canada’s table tennis team will no longer go to Nagano’s Okaya city, which instead plans to put posters of athletes around town, said Tomoko Hirose of the city’s planning division.

‘Our cheering may become a one-way engagement, without physical exchanges, but given the situation, we just have to move on,’ Hirose said. 

It comes after the head of the Tokyo Olympics Seiko Hashimoto assured the world that the postponed games will open in three months and not be cancelled despite the surging Covid-19 cases.  

Not all host towns have given up on their plans and Tokyo is rushing to carry out mass vaccinations in the city. 

Tsuruoka city in northern Yamagata prefecture will host several dozen Olympic and Paralympic athletes and officials from Moldova and Germany.

Organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto, pictured, was asked at a news conference if there were any conditions under which the Olympics would be canceled

Organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto, pictured, was asked at a news conference if there were any conditions under which the Olympics would be canceled

Despite the problems, Olympic organisers insist the Games can be held safely and have released virus rulebooks to allay public fears (pictured, officials unveil the Olympics Rings on Mount Takao, west of Tokyo)

Despite the problems, Olympic organisers insist the Games can be held safely and have released virus rulebooks to allay public fears (pictured, officials unveil the Olympics Rings on Mount Takao, west of Tokyo) 

The city has had ties for years with Moldova, said Takayuki Ito, an official with the city’s board of education.

‘What’s important for us is to continue our exchanges,’ Ito told AFP, describing recent online archery competitions held with Moldovans.

‘There are things you can do without spending a lot of money,’ Ito said. ‘We have a good feeling about our programme.’

But it won’t be simple. The athletes will stay in their own dormitory and move only along designated routes to gyms and training fields, avoiding contact with residents.

In western Tottori, Yonago city will host several dozen people from Jamaica’s swimming, gymnastics and Paralympic boat teams.

The city has had ties with Jamaica since 2015, and believes its host duties will strengthen that bond, said Kyohei Takahashi at the city’s sports promotion division.

The athletes will be on a designated floor and use a staff elevator of their hotel, avoiding the lobby and main entrance to limit contact.

They will also be offered frequent virus testing, as well as designated routes to gyms and pools.

‘We planned very early,’ Takahashi said. ‘We won’t be able to have exchanges with athletes this time. But the legacy will remain,’ he added. 

Meanwhile a mass vaccination centre will be set up in Tokyo next month as part of the country’s bid to speed up its Covid-19 inoculation campaign before the Olympics.   

The Defense Ministry tweeted it had been asked by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to set up the Tokyo vaccination centre by May 24 with plans for it to operate for three months. The facility will service residents in the capital and the surrounding prefectures of Saitama, Chiba, and Kanagawa.

A mass vaccination centre will be set up in Tokyo next month as part of the country's bid to speed up its Covid-19 inoculation campaign before the Olympics. Pictured: An elderly woman in vaccinated against Covid-19 in Kitaaiki village in Nagano Prefecture, Japan on April 21

A mass vaccination centre will be set up in Tokyo next month as part of the country’s bid to speed up its Covid-19 inoculation campaign before the Olympics. Pictured: An elderly woman in vaccinated against Covid-19 in Kitaaiki village in Nagano Prefecture, Japan on April 21

Local media reported the government planned to use Moderna Inc’s vaccine to inoculate about 10,000 people each day at the centre. However, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said those decisions had not yet been made.

Meanwhile, Toyota City in central Japan said it was setting up vaccination centres with the help of Toyota Motor Corp . The carmaker will offer up about 450 staff and four sites to start operations on May 30, city officials said in a statement.

Japan began vaccinating its sizable elderly population this month but only about 1.5% of the country’s entire 126 million population has been inoculated, according to a Reuters tracker.

Officials have so far been dependent on limited imported doses of Pfizer Inc’s vaccine, but vaccine minister Taro Kono has said he expects the programme to pick up in May when Pfizer shipments are due to accelerate.

Kono is also hopeful that regulators will soon approve Moderna’s vaccine and AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine – of which it has ordered 50 million and 120 million doses respectively.

Japan has recorded about 564,000 COVID-19 cases, including 9,969 deaths.      


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