Japan trails in Covid -19 vaccinations as Olympics loom

Japan trails in Covid -19 vaccinations as Olympics inch closer

From February 17 to June 23, the island nation has managed to fully vaccinate only 8.7 per cent of its population

As of June 22, 19 per cent of its eligible population (16 years to 65+ years) had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Credit: Reuters Photo

The Tokyo Olympics, delayed by an entire year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, is now less than a month away from inauguration.

As expected, the Games is set to be a muted affair with fans — who will be donning masks at all times — not allowed to cheer, make direct contact with other spectators or ask players for autographs.

While vaccinations are not a must for any of the spectators, that Japan has administered both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to only 8.7 per cent of its population is worrying. 

Japan, which has so far seen 7.93 lakh Covid-19 cases and 14,582 deaths, started its vaccination drive on February 17, but only recently picked up the pace.

A whole range of issues, from vaccine hesitancy to limited availability of vaccines, as well as shortage of doctors and nurses, had prevented the country from administering more shots in the first three months of the inoculation drive. 

From February 17 to June 23, the island nation has managed to fully vaccinate only 8.7 per cent of its population according to figures published by Our World in Data. During the same period, 19.3 per cent of its eligible population (16 years to 65 years and above) had received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Read | A month before the Olympics, how is Japan faring with Covid?

Although better than India's complete vaccine coverage of a mere 3.7 per cent, Japan lags far behind its peers with United States having completely covered 45.1 per cent of its population and the UK fully inoculating 47 per cent of its population. The European Union, which was struggling with vaccine supplies earlier this year, also fares better, having administered both vaccine doses to 29 per cent of its population.

The single shot coverage for the US, UK, and EU stood at 53.2, 64.3, and 48.3 per cent respectively, which is more than double and in the UK's case, triple that of Japan.

However, it's not just the western world that Japan finds itself trailing. The country's vaccination figures are lower than the world average of 10.3 per cent for both doses and 22.4 per cent for at least one.

Japan's vaccinations per 100 population figure is not encouraging either. As of June 23, at 28.3, it finds itself miles away from UK's 111.31, the US's 95.64 and the EU's 75.42.

On a positive note, Japan can take encouragement from having administered at least 10 lakh vaccines daily since June 14, although it remains to be seen if such a pace is sustainable. 

In addition to the doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines available at its disposal, it also has the 20,000 vaccines which the International Olympic Committee provided for athletes, match officials, organisers, and hospitality staff. Tokyo 2020, the organising committee of the Games had on June 11 announced that it would soon start vaccinating 18,000 such members including a few of the 70,000 volunteers who may come in close contact with athletes.

Also Read | Did you know the Olympics had to be called off thrice in the past?

But there are also other uncontrollable factors that have come into the mix. The instance of a coach from the Uganda Olympic contingent testing positive for the more contagious Delta Covid-19 variant is one such example. Many nations that form the over 11,000-strong global contingent are yet to arrive. It wouldn't be wise to rule out such similar cases in the remaining four weeks.

This is why despite the new rules permitting fans, the possibility of an Olympics without them still lurks around. Ensuring that bubbles in Olympic Villages and hotels are 100 per cent Covid-proof is a mammoth task, Tokyo 2020 chief Hashimoto said Friday. She said that the country must be prepared for a 'no spectators' scenario should it arise.

Rules revealed by the organisers on Monday allowed local fans to attend the Games. 50 per cent of the capacity up to 10,000 spectators can enter the stadium. However, it banned them from bringing alcoholic drinks – allowed in other sporting events in Japan.

The mega event, for which costs have possibly doubled, has been met by stiff opposition from the public, with a poll from last weekend suggesting that 86 per cent surveyed still opposed to Japan hosting the Olympics.

That apart, the country's Covid-19 situation, which saw Tokyo go under an emergency state lifted only on June 20, has left many seething at the government's priorities. Lately, there have been a number of protests in Tokyo against the country hosting the Olympics.

(Note: All vaccination figures has been accessed from Our World in Data)

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