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Japan ramps up delayed COVID vaccination drive as Olympics near

Japan pushes vaccinations before Olympics
Japan pushes COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of Tokyo Olympics 01:46

Tokyo — The Tokyo Summer Olympics are less than two months away, and the host city is still under a state of emergency due to the high rate of COVID-19 infections. While the number of new cases recorded daily has been declining recently, Tokyo remains on edge as it prepares to host tens of thousands of athletes, media, staff and other foreign participants for the Games.

The Japanese government is pinning its hopes to host a safe event — and to protect and reassure its own population — on a belated vaccination rollout.

Japan has been a laggard when it comes to vaccinations: Only about 4% of the population has been fully inoculated thus far. The delay is down largely to the fact that it took Japan much longer than most other nations to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, and restrictions on who can administer shots.

Tokyo Olympics in jeopardy as Japan battles COVID wave 01:49

But in recent days, the pace has dramatically accelerated, thanks in part to mass vaccination centers opening up. The government has also now allowed large corporations and universities to set up their own vaccine clinics, potentially reaching nearly 5 million residents.

Authorities have said they're on track to vaccinate most of Japan's senior citizens by late July, when the Tokyo Olympics start.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the International Olympic Committee have continued to insist that the Games can be held without compromising public health. 

Mass Vaccination Campaign Continues In Tokyo
A medical worker guides a person at a coronavirus mass vaccination center, June 9, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. DAVID MAREUIL/Getty

Foreign spectators won't be allowed at the Olympics, but with the pace of vaccinations speeding up, Japan is said to be leaning towards allowing domestic spectators to attend the Games — perhaps filling venues to half-capacity.

That doesn't sit well with the government's own health experts, however, who warn that allowing crowds to move around the city during the Olympics risks sparking another surge of coronavirus infections. The government is already urging Tokyo residents to work from home during the Games.

Next week, the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee is set release the final edition of its so-called "playbook," the detailed operating manual dictating exactly how it will run the Olympics safely amid a pandemic.

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