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Tokyo governor vows city’s medical system is ready for Olympics


Tokyo governor vows city’s medical system is ready for Olympics
Tokyo governor, Yuriko Koike (GP)

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TOKYO – City of Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike said on Tuesday that enough hospitals combined with a speed-up in the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out among the elderly meant the city will be able to hold a “safe and secure” Olympics in 10 days.

But Koike, speaking to Reuters in an interview at the Tokyo government headquarters that has for the last few weeks doubled as a vaccination site, also warned the coronavirus pandemic was far from over and the spreading Delta variant remained a risk.

“Very many people will be vaccinated in the coming 10 days and during the Olympics,” Koike said. “The biggest change as a result of that will be a substantive fall in the ratio of deaths and severe cases among the elderly.

“Because of that, and because the medical system is ready, I think we can press ahead with a safe Olympics.”

Koike has only recently returned to work after a brief break because of fatigue during which she was admitted to hospital.

Japan’s vaccination roll-out got off to a slow start and faced supply glitches after speeding up. Only about 28 per cent of the population has received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Japanese capital entered its fourth state of emergency on Monday causing bars and restaurants to close early, amid a rebound in COVID-19 cases that also pushed the Games organisers last week to ban spectators from nearly all venues.

Spectators from abroad were already banned months ago, and officials are now asking residents to watch the Games on TV to keep the movement of people to a minimum.

But United States first lady Jill Biden will travel to Tokyo for the opening ceremony on July 23, the White House said in an announcement on Tuesday that did not include her husband, President Joe Biden.

“It’s very sad that the Games are being held without spectators,” said Koike. “It’s clear we’ll be able to lower the risks, but the spectators are also very important for the athletes and give them a big boost. It’s a big shame that we have to hold the Olympics without them.”

Koike, 68, often floated as a potential Japanese prime minister, was re-elected governor in a landslide last year, winning public support for her straight-talking approach to the pandemic in contrast with a sluggish nationwide vaccination roll-out.

The Citizens First party, linked to Koike, performed strongly in this month’s local assembly elections, leading to speculation – so far rejected by Koike – that she may make a comeback to national politics.

On Tuesday, she did not directly address questions on the matter.