Olympics organisers unveil Covid-19 ‘playbook’ as Coates arrives in Tokyo

Japan ponders whether to extend state of emergency.

In Summary

• Minister says Pfizer to provide more vaccine doses — report.

• Tokyo 2020 organisers to outline latest COVID-19 protocols.

IOC Vice President and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Coordination Commission chairman John Coates arrives at Haneda Airport in Tokyo
IOC Vice President and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Coordination Commission chairman John Coates arrives at Haneda Airport in Tokyo

Olympics organisers on Tuesday unveiled their latest ‘playbook’ of rules to control Covid-19 infections as Japan’s government pondered whether to extend a state of emergency and senior Olympics official John Coates arrived in Tokyo.

Coates, a vice-president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and its point-man for the event, sparked a backlash last month when he said the Games would go ahead even if Tokyo were under a state of emergency due to the pandemic.

Japan’s government is considering ending the state of emergency in Tokyo and several other prefectures as scheduled on June 20, but keeping some curbs such as on restaurant hours until the Olympics start in July, domestic media have said.

Economics Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, in charge of Japan’s Covid-19 response, said that with hospital occupancy and infection rates still high, it was too soon to talk as if lifting the state of emergency was a done deal.

“Now is a critical time to call on the public, to suppress infections and to take initiatives for a stable supply of hospital beds,” he said. A decision on the emergency could come as early as Thursday, media reported.

Organisers’ rules, known as a “playbook”, already mandate wearing masks by athletes and others in most situations and frequent testing for Covid-19. Athletes and members of the media, whose movements will be restricted, will be subject to GPS monitoring for the first 14 days of their stay in Japan. The latest update was announced on Tuesday.

About 11,000 athletes and 78,000 journalists, officials and staff are expected at the Games. Japan has not suffered the explosive outbreaks seen elsewhere but has still recorded more than 772,000 cases and over 14,000 deaths.

A slow vaccination rollout, though recently accelerating, means only 13 per cent of the population has received at least one shot. A June 1-9 online survey of companies by think tank Tokyo Shoko Research showed 64 per cent favoured cancelling or postponing the Games due to such concerns as the spread of the virus and slow vaccinations. Nearly 60 per cent said doing so would hurt their businesses but just over 40 per cent expected a positive impact.

Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa told a news conference that Pfizer Inc would provide doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to an additional 20,000 people involved in the Olympics and Paralympics, Kyodo news agency reported, doubling the amount previously promised by the U.S. pharmaceutical firm.

Some 80 per cent of qualified athletes have already been vaccinated and the IOC is pushing to raise the number. Japan’s often patchy response to the coronavirus has eroded support for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

A survey by NHK public TV showed 37 per cent approved of his government against 45 per cent who disapproved, the highest disapproval rating since he took office last September. More than two-thirds were not persuaded by his explanation of why the Games should be held or how they would be made safe.

Just under one-third wanted the Games cancelled while 61 per cent wanted either a cap on spectators or no spectators at all. Organisers have already decided against allowing spectators from abroad and will make a call on domestic spectators later this month.

Reflecting the role of money in decisions to forge ahead, NBCUniversal Chief Executive Jeff Shell said on Monday the event could be the most profitable Olympics in NBC’s history. NBC Universal, owned by Comcast Corp, paid $7.65 billion to extend its U.S. broadcast rights for the Olympics through 2032.

The Games could provide an opportunity for diplomacy. Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper said South Korean President Moon Jae-In was arranging a visit to Japan timed with the Games and Seoul is hoping Moon will hold his first ever talks with Suga then.

Japan’s top government spokesman, however, denied a summit was in the works amid a spat over islets claimed by both countries. The relationship between South Korea and Japan has soured in recent years due to disputes over the islets, war-time history and trade.