Olympic host Japan will not take part in China vaccine offer

Olympic Committee stands by its decision not to have Covid-19 vaccinations be a 'prerequisite'

People walk past at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Wednesday, March 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

Japan will not take part in China’s offer – accepted by the International Olympic Committee – to provide vaccines for participants in the postponed Tokyo Games and next year’s Beijing Winter Games.

Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said Friday that Japan had not been consulted by the committee about the Chinese vaccines and that Japanese athletes would not take them. She said the vaccines have not been approved for use in Japan.

“We have been taking comprehensive anti-infectious disease measures for the Tokyo Games in order to allow participation without vaccinations,” Ms Marukawa said.

“There is no change to our principle of not making vaccinations a prerequisite.”

Announced by committee president Thomas Bach on Thursday, the surprise deal comes as China faces mounting international pressure over the internment of at least 1 million Muslim Uighurs, an action that has been labelled a “genocide” by several governments and human rights bodies.

The committee has indicated it is a sports body and will not meddle in domestic issues in China.

The committee initially said it would not require athletes to receive vaccines but only encourage it. The deal with China puts more emphasis on distributing vaccines to young, healthy athletes and others.

The committee has said it will pay for the vaccines but gave no indication of the cost or quantity.

Ms Marukawa pointed out that the Olympics are being held as if vaccines are not available, relying on testing, masks, social distancing and keeping athletes in a “bubble".

Distribution of China’s vaccine will be through international agencies or existing vaccine agreements countries have with China, Mr Bach said.

The committee clarified on Friday that athletes in countries which have not authorised Chinese vaccines for use could not benefit from the programme.

“This offer will really only apply to [national Olympic committees] in territories where the Chinese vaccination has been approved by their national health authorities,” said James MacLeod, the committee official who works with those Olympic bodies.

China, where the Covid-19 outbreak began in late 2019, has actively engaged in vaccine diplomacy, using doses developed by companies Sinovac and Sinopharm. Trials have produced generally lower levels of efficacy than vaccines produced outside China.

Mr Bach said Thursday “that a significant number of Olympic teams have already been vaccinated", though he did name the teams' countries.

“The [committee] will make every effort to have as many participants in the Olympics and Paralympic Games arriving already vaccinated in Japan this summer,” Mr Bach said.

Tokyo organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto, in a news conference on Friday, said people coming to Japan with vaccinations might help reassure a sceptical public.

About 80 per cent of Japanese in recent polls say the Olympics should be postponed or cancelled, and almost as many do not want visitors to come from abroad.

Ms Hashimoto said again that the decision on fans coming from overseas will be made before the torch relay begins on March 25. Numerous reports in Japan say the decision has already been made to ban foreign visitors.

She also said a decision on venue capacity will be made in April.

“The sooner the better,” she said. “At an earlier stage, it is better to present the direction. We’ve been receiving requests to make the decision sooner."