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Japan's Paralympics joy marred by COVID anxiety as surging cases fill hospital beds

Tokyo — The 13-day Tokyo Paralympics was in full swing Monday, featuring a record number of disabled athletes — more than 4,400 this year — competing in over 500 events. The U.S. was ranking third in the medals table. To many people in Japan, however, the massive sporting event may as well be taking place in a parallel universe. The Paralympics have been playing out as Japan grapples with one of its worst COVID-19 surges since the pandemic began.

Across 22 sports, from basketball to swimming, the Paralympics has been highlighting elite athletes and shattering stereotypes of disability as they break records. The latest in assistive technology has been on display, including advanced curved running blades and wheelchairs customized for everything from fencing to rugby.

But for many here, the glory, drama and excitement of the Paralympics seems a world away from reality. Most of Japan is under coronavirus restrictions. With hospitals running out of ICU beds, a record number of people infected with COVID-19 — more than 100,000 patients — have been forced to recuperate at home.
The public's desperation burst into public view this week when a new vaccination center was instantly mobbed upon opening.

"I got here at 1 a.m.," one man told us. "I want a shot as fast as possible."

Sister Giabbit, a mascot of the Japanese professional baseball team Yomiuri Giants, greets people at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo
Sister Giabbit, a mascot of the Japanese professional baseball team Yomiuri Giants, wearing clothes symbolising a medial professional, greets people at the entrance of the Tokyo Dome, the home ground of the team which is which is currently being used as a large-scale coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center, in Tokyo, Japan, August 16, 2021. ISSEI KATO/REUTERS

But many were turned away as the center quickly became overwhelmed. Japan's delayed vaccine rollout has left more than half of Japanese people still unvaccinated.

Professor Seijiro Takeshita, who lives outside Tokyo, told us he was fed up — and that he wasn't alone.
"People are getting very weary, to say the least, and some showing acute anger about the delay of the vaccine," he told CBS News. "People, again, are getting worried, because now we're seeing a crisis or a possible crisis in the hospitalization beds. So people are really getting worried, and the anxiety level is, I think, reaching the peak right now."

But back at the Paralympics, there was more cause for celebration. Over the weekend, two Afghans who had given up hope of competing in Tokyo after the Taliban takeover finally did arrive in Tokyo.

Zakia Khudadadi, a taekwondo athlete, is only the second female Paralympian to represent her country. 

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