Japan is working closely with the International Olympic Committee to prepare for the Games and, despite concerns about the burning of cases at Covid-19, there are no plans to postpone, said the Japanese minister in charge of vaccines.
“Unless they decide otherwise, we just need to prepare for the Games, how to control the situation. I think it changes almost every day, so they need to be prepared for it. But I don’t think they are thinking of putting it off, “Taro Kono told CNBC’s Martin Soong on Wednesday.
The Olympic torch was removed from the public streets of Osaka on Wednesday, when the city declared a state of emergency after coronavirus cases reached record levels.
“Yes, (a) the situation in Osaka is especially worrying,” said Kono, who is also a minister for regulatory reform. A new variant of the virus similar to the first one discovered in the UK is “spreading rapidly” in Osaka, he added.
“We have identified a similar mutation in Tokyo, so we are concerned (that) Tokyo will be able to follow Osaka in a few weeks. So we really need to pay attention to the situation,” he said.
A man wearing a face mask is behind the Olympic symbols of the five interlocking rings depicted near Tokyo National Stadium.
James Matsumoto, SOPA images | LightRocket | Getty Images
Osaka’s population is much smaller than Tokyo’s, but the city registered 878 new cases on April 7, compared with 555 in Tokyo on the same day.
The Summer Olympics are due to officially begin in Tokyo on July 23, just over 100 days from now. They were delayed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, the Games will be much smaller compared to previous years, as international spectators were prevented from entering the country due to concerns about Covid-19.
“Well, unfortunately, we may not have as many spectators watching the game at the stadium, but most people are going to watch it on television anyway,” said Kono.
Delays in vaccine launch in Japan
Japan is expected to vaccinate the country’s elderly people as of Monday, moving on to the next stage of its vaccine distribution, which has been hampered by delays in vaccine deliveries.
Less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated so far, according to Kono – but he hopes that vaccinations will take effect in mid-May, when vaccines from the European Union arrive.
“Unfortunately, we were unable to develop a vaccine internally and we need to rely on importing the vaccine from the EU,” said Kono. “At the moment, we have authorized the Pfizer vaccine and it will start for the elderly next Monday.”
He said that the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will be “very important” because it will be made in Japan, which will interrupt some negotiations.
His interview took place hours before drug regulators in the EU and the UK announced on Wednesday that there could be a possible link between the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and rare blood clotting problems. Both regulators, however, pointed out that the benefits of receiving the vaccine still outweigh the risks.
“The biggest headache for me is going through the EU’s transparency mechanism,” said Kono, referring to a measure that allows EU member states to impose restrictions on vaccine exports.
“If we have (a) a domestic vaccine or a vaccine produced domestically … more than half of my headache would go away,” he said.
Asked whether the way he dealt with the coronavirus outbreak in Japan could affect his chances of being the next prime minister, Kono was indifferent.
“My job is to get the vaccine to reach Japan from Europe and (to) vaccinate as many people as possible,” he said. “You don’t have to think about the premier job. You just have to do your job, to protect people’s (lives).”