Confronting graph shows major threat facing the world in 85 days

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·3-min read

The glacial pace of Japan's vaccine rollout in the face of a surging "fourth wave" of coronavirus threatens to derail the Olympics with just 85 days to go until the Games are due to start.

As the event creeps closer, there are growing concerns the influx of athletes from around the world could lead to a superspreader event – a concern underpinned by the curiously slow pace of the vaccine rollout in Japan. 

Japan has strong healthcare and pharmaceutical industries but has one of the slowest vaccine rollouts among wealthy nations in the world. To date, it has inoculated only 1.6 per cent of its population, according to data compiled by Reuters.

The new national stadium, the main stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, may be empty when the Games are held later this year. Source: Getty
The new national stadium, the main stadium for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, may be empty when the Games are held later this year. Source: Getty

By the end of April, Japan will have imported enough vials of the Pfizer vaccine for almost 17 million doses, according to a government schedule. But as of Wednesday, just over 3.2 million shots had been given out, mostly to healthcare workers.

Analysis from Bloomberg's vaccine tracker puts the number of doses administered at about 1.3 per cent of Japan's population, warning the sluggish vaccine drive could "threatens Japan's Olympic moment".

Since it began its vaccination push in February, Japan has secured plenty of supply but has only used about a fifth of the doses it has imported so far, official data shows.

While the health ministry this week announced a mass vaccination hub will open in Tokyo in May, time is ticking until athletes, coaches and support staff begin arriving in the country, with some due to arrive as early as late June.

Data compiled by Bloomberg illustrates just how far behind Japan is compared to its northern hemisphere counterparts. 

Bloomberg's vaccie tracker shows Japan has the slowest rollout in the OECD.
Bloomberg's vaccie tracker shows Japan has the slowest rollout in the OECD. Source: Bloomberg

Tokyo in state of emergency, questions loom about spectators

Speaking to ABC Radio on Thursday, CEO of Paralympics Australia, Lynne Anderson, said authorites are "making it loud and clear" to athletes about the risks involved with heading to Japan's Olympic Village. 

"The first step is to ensure we get them vaccinated in time ... we need to make sure they're fully protected before they go," she said.

"We will have stronger protocols than what's been put up in the village," she added.

If an athlete tests positive they won't be able to compete and any close contact would also be forced into isolation, possibly forcing them to miss their event, according to the Paralympics boss.

Overseas spectators have already been ruled out, and a decision on whether to allow domestic spectators will be taken in June, a few weeks before the Games begin on July 23.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said on Wednesday while organisers want as many spectators as possible, they were ready to take every step needed to ensure safety.

"We are prepared to hold the Games without spectators," she told a news conference.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach (on a screen) delivers an opening speech while Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee president Seiko Hashimoto listens on Wednesday. Source: Getty
International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach (on a screen) delivers an opening speech while Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee president Seiko Hashimoto listens on Wednesday. Source: Getty

Parts of Japan, including Tokyo, were put under a new state of emergency on the weekend due to the ongoing surge in virus cases.  

Most Japanese public think the Games, postponed from 2020, should be cancelled or delayed again. Two polls conducted by news agencies Kyodo and TBS in January showed more than 80 per cent of the populace agreed with the sentiment. 

Meanwhile some Japanese towns and cities are reportedly considering pulling out of hosting duties due to a ban on public appearances and the mandate of costly safety measures.

Even without foreign spectators, more than 10,000 athletes, coaches and support staff are expected to arrive in July.

On Wednesday, Tokyo reported 925 new cases.

with Reuters

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