The International Olympic Committee is working with the World Health Organization to get all athletes vaccinated in a bid to save the Tokyo Games, The Telegraph reported on Friday.
Fast-tracking the COVID-19 vaccines to competitors where national programs are yet to begin is the main priority in the Olympic Committee’s plan, the report said.
Japan’s top government spokesman said Tuesday that the widespread distribution of coronavirus vaccines is not a prerequisite for going ahead with the games.
“We are considering comprehensive measures to hold a safe and secure games, even without making vaccines a condition,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news conference.
At a news conference on Jan. 7, Suga said Japan will start coronavirus vaccinations in late February. The atmosphere will change once thorough measures against the virus are taken, he said, showing his expectation that vaccinations could be a game changer.
Vaccinations are slated to begin in Japan by late February, starting with medical workers, followed by people aged 65 or older from late March, then people with pre-existing conditions and those caring for the elderly.
But vaccination programs have only just started in Europe and the United States.
Challenges include vaccine supplies to emerging economies, what to do about Olympic and Paralympic athletes refusing vaccinations and risks associated with adverse effects from vaccines.
In addition, the effectiveness of vaccines against variants of the coronavirus remains unknown.
Japan on Friday dismissed a report claiming officials see cancelling the Tokyo Olympics as inevitable, as heavyweights the United States, Canada and Australia said they were still preparing for the games.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Manabu Sakai said there was “no truth” to the report in The Times, which quoted an unnamed ruling coalition source as saying “the consensus is that it’s too difficult” to hold the Olympics.
It is the latest report to cast doubt on the troubled 2020 Games, which were postponed over the coronavirus last year but have been hit by a surge in cases and plunging public support.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Friday insisted he was “determined” to hold the event “as proof that mankind will have overcome the virus.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers said they were “fully focused on hosting the games this summer.”
And the national Olympic committees of the United States, Canada and Australia all said they were preparing to send teams to Japan.
The statements from Canada and Australia contrast with last year, when they withdrew their athletes before officials took the unprecedented decision to postpone.
However, despite denying the British report, Sakai said a decision was looming for Japan.
“At some point in time, we will naturally make a decision as to whether to actually hold it,” he said.
“Until then the Japanese government will do what it needs to do and make progress and prepare for it.”
Concerns have risen as Japan battles a third wave of coronavirus infections, with polls showing around 80% of Japanese oppose hosting the event this year.
The Olympics have never been canceled in peacetime.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said there was “no reason whatsoever” for them not to go ahead on July 23 as scheduled.
“Everybody is really determined to make these Olympic Games,” Bach said in a video message on Friday. “All the prospects are good and we are working hard.”
The World Health Organization’s emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Friday the Tokyo Olympic Games were still viable, but remained cautious.
“We don’t contribute to the decision-making regarding the holding or not holding of the Olympics,” he said. “The best way we can get to an Olympics is get on top of this disease.”
“I have every confidence in the Japanese people and in their public health and governmental authorities. We all hope in the Olympics but we all recognize that everyone right now is a little afraid, as we enter the New Year, with some uncertainties.
Japan and the IOC took the historic step of postponing the Games last March as COVID-19 spread around the world.
On Friday, Australian Olympic Committee CEO Matt Carroll ruled out another withdrawal, calling reports of the Games’ cancellation “unfounded rumor.”
“The Tokyo Games are on,” he said.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee stopped short of a vote of confidence, but said it remained focused on preparing for the games.
“We have not received any information suggesting the Games will not happen as planned, and our focus remains on the health and preparedness of Team USA athletes ahead of the Games this summer,” the USOPC tweeted.
The chairman of the British Olympic Association, Hugh Robertson, said he believed the games would take place, although with “many fewer spectators in venues.”
“Clearly there is uncertainty around but I am as confident as one can be the games will go ahead in some shape or form,” he said.
Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said she had no idea where The Times had obtained its information, insisting cancellation had not been discussed.
“We’ve been firmly coordinating with the government, the organizing committee and the IOC … and the truth is that there has been no talk of cancellation or postponement,” she told reporters.
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said this week that the organizing committee is “unwavering” on holding the event this year, but couldn’t rule out staging it without spectators.
But domestically there is rising doubt, with opposition lawmakers in parliament on Thursday calling for the games to be postponed or canceled.
And on Friday, the Tokyo Medical Association called for the event to be held behind closed doors.
“They must give up the idea of having the festivity of the century by inviting people from various countries,” its chairman Haruo Ozaki told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
“The feasibility of holding it with no spectators should be considered.”
Sebastian Coe, the global president of the games’ showpiece sport, track and field, said such a solution would be acceptable.
“I would love to have fans, noisy and passionate,” Coe told the BBC.
“But if the only way we’re able to deliver it is behind closed doors, I think everybody is accepting of that.”
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.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.