• AFP-Jiji, Kyodo, Reuters


International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates arrived in Japan on Tuesday as organizers ramp up final preparations with just over five weeks until the pandemic-postponed games open, and Japan secures more vaccines for staff involved.

Ahead of his arrival, several dozen people protested against the games in Tokyo, though recent opinion polls suggest public opposition may be weakening.

Later Tuesday, organizers were set to release the final version of their virus countermeasures for athletes in a so-called playbook that they say will keep the event safe.

They have already announced measures including daily testing for athletes and GPS tracking of journalists coming from abroad, in an attempt to reassure a skeptical public.

National polls have regularly shown most people in Japan oppose holding the games this summer — preferring either a postponement or cancellation.

But with the first foreign athletes already in the country and Olympic officials arriving, there is some evidence that opposition may be declining.

A survey in early June found half of the Japanese public back holding the games, and a new poll published late Monday showed 64% now support it going ahead.

The new survey by national broadcaster NHK found 31% of respondents want the games canceled, down from 49% in May.

In all, 64% said they want the games to go ahead — including 29% who favor a ban on spectators, 32% who want limited spectators and 3% who want no restrictions on fans.

The poll did not give the option of postponement, which organizers have ruled out.

Protesters against the Olympics stage a rally in Tokyo on Monday ahead of a visit by International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates. | KYODO
Protesters against the Olympics stage a rally in Tokyo on Monday ahead of a visit by International Olympic Committee Vice President John Coates. | KYODO

Coates will be in quarantine for three days and subject to some restrictions on his movement after that.

Japan's mandatory 14-day quarantine for overseas arrivals is being relaxed for Olympic participants.

But organizers insist that Tokyo 2020 will be safe, with around 80% of those staying at the Olympic Village expected to be vaccinated, and rules preventing athletes from contact with Japan's public.

Olympics minister Tamayo Marukawa said Tuesday the government has agreed to receive from U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc. COVID-19 vaccine doses for an additional 20,000 workers involved in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

With the total number of donated vaccinations for Olympic-related staff doubled to 40,000, Japan has expanded its vaccine eligibility to volunteers who will be working at the athletes village, members of the organizing committee and domestic media.

"We will work with people in charge to make the vaccine process as smooth as possible," Marukawa said.

She said the vaccination program for Tokyo Games workers will begin on Thursday at the Ajinomoto Training Center in Tokyo's Kita Ward, where members of the Japanese Olympic delegation began receiving their shots on June 1.

Last month, Marukawa said the IOC teamed with Pfizer to offer approximately 20,000 people involved in the games, including athletes, technical officials and interpreters, vaccines free of charge.

About 11,000 athletes and 78,000 journalists, officials and staff are expected at the games.

Japan has not suffered the explosive outbreaks seen elsewhere but has still recorded more than 772,000 cases and over 14,000 deaths.

A slow vaccination rollout, though recently accelerating, means only 13% of the population has received at least one shot.

Japan's often-patchy response to the coronavirus has eroded support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The NHK survey showed 37% approved of his government against 45% who disapproved, the highest disapproval rating since he took office last September.

More than two-thirds were not persuaded by his explanation of why the games should be held or how they would be made safe.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.