• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates on Tuesday agreed on the need to distribute coronavirus vaccines to developing countries in order to ensure the safety of this summer's Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, according to a person who sat in on their phone talks.

Gates called on Suga to host a successful Summer Games as it would send a strong message to the rest of the world, Suntory Holdings Ltd. CEO Takeshi Niinami told reporters. Suga replied that the games are a "very important issue" and would "definitely" go ahead, Niinami said.

The Tokyo Olympics are slated to start in July having been postponed last year due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, though the Japanese public remains skeptical amid a recent spike in infections across the country.

During the roughly 15-minute conversation, the co-founder of U.S. tech giant Microsoft Corp. and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation expressed hope for the success of the games as well as the Tokyo Nutrition for Growth Summit, a conference on efforts to end world hunger slated for December, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Niinami, who is close to the prime minister, said he arranged the phone talks at Gates' request.

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