• Reuters

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The European Union and the Japanese governent on Thursday backed Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympic Games this year, with EU-produced vaccines helping Japan in its battle against a fourth wave of infections.

“We support the holding of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 in a safe and secure manner this summer as a symbol of global unity in defeating COVID-19,” the EU and Japan said in a joint statement after a summit.

Japan’s vaccination drive has been glacially slow, with just over 5% of the population having had a shot, and several polls have shown the majority of the Japanese public are opposed to holding the games.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the European Union had authorized the export to Japan of more than 100 million vaccine doses, enough to inoculate about 40% of the population.

“We have of course said we are looking forward to the Olympics Games,” she told a news conference, adding that the vaccine shipments were a strong sign of EU support for preparations of a safe event.

The Olympic Games run for just over two weeks from July 23, with the Paralympics due to start on Aug. 24. Foreign spectators have been banned and a decision on domestic ones is expected next month.

The head of Japan’s doctor’s union warned on Tuesday that hosting thousands of athletes and officials could lead to the emergence of an “Olympic” virus strain.

“We have indicated we are engaged with the authorities of his country to take all the precautionary measures required,” European Council president Charles Michel said after his video meeting with von der Leyen and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The leaders also discussed cooperation on climate change, trade and foreign and security policy, saying they were committed to a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region, unconstrained by coercion.

Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Naoki Okada told a separate briefing that the two sides agreed to oppose unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas, echoing a G7 statement on the disputed waters earlier in May.

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