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IOC’s Bach says Tokyo Olympics participants may need COVID-19 vaccinations

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo on Monday.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga greet one another in Tokyo on Monday.
(Kazuhiro Nogi / Pool photo)

Olympic participants and fans arriving for next year’s postponed Tokyo Olympics are likely to face COVID-19 vaccination requirements, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said Monday after meeting with new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

It was Bach’s first meeting with Suga and his first trip to Japan since the Summer Olympics were postponed almost eight months ago because of the pandemic.

“In order to protect the Japanese people and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that as many [people] as possible — Olympic participants and visitors — will arrive here [with a] vaccine if by then a vaccine is available,” Bach said. “This makes us all very confident that we can have spectators in the Olympics stadium next year and that spectators will enjoy a safe environment.”

Bach has two days of meetings with politicians and Summer Games organizers in Tokyo, aimed at persuading the Japanese public that it’s safe to hold the Olympics during a pandemic.

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The Olympics are to open July 23, 2021.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer last week announced promising early data on its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. There have also been advances in rapid coronavirus testing.

The Summer Olympics organizing committee head says whether the Games take place in 2021 depends on medical advancement against the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of this is taking place as cases around the world surge heading into the Northern Hemisphere winter. Bach traveled to Tokyo on a chartered flight. He had called off a trip last month to South Korea because of the virus’ spread in Europe.

Some athletes and fans from abroad are almost certain to oppose any vaccination requirement, which Bach has hinted previously could be almost mandatory for Olympic “solidarity.”

Japan has held baseball games recently with near-capacity crowds of 30,000 fans at some stadiums. It has also held an exhibition gymnastic meet attended by several thousand fans, with 22 athletes entering from abroad.

Japan has registered about 1,900 deaths attributed to COVID-19. It has also largely sealed off its borders, and has almost 100% mask-wearing compliance by the public.

Several polls have shown the Japanese public to be ambivalent about hosting the Olympic Games amid larger concerns, such as the country’s slumping economy. A government audit report last year said the bill for preparing the Olympics could reach $25 billion. All but $5.6 billion is public money.


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