Bach projects confidence in Tokyo Games as virus cases surge

The International Olympic Committee will arrange to ensure vaccination of both participants and visitors before they arrive in Japan.

International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach expressed confidence on Monday that the Tokyo Games will be held successfully next year, even allowing spectators to attend, as the world grapples with a sharp rise in coronavirus infections.

Bach’s two-day visit to Tokyo is likely to bolster Japan’s efforts to stage the Olympics, but will do little to assuage the concerns of a public deeply worried about the spread of the virus.

The IOC president spent the day with the Tokyo organizers discussing how to stage the massive sporting event during an unprecedented pandemic and ensure safety for a gathering of more than 11,000 international athletes. The visit is Bach’s first to the Japanese capital since he and former prime minister Shinzo Abe decided in March to postpone the 2020 Games to July 23 next year.

Bach called next year’s games a “light at the end of the tunnel” after the world’s pandemic battle, and pointed to recent sporting competitions in Japan as proof that events could already take place safely, saying the IOC was now “very confident” that spectators would be able to attend the Games.

Bach fist-bumped with Japan’s new premier, Yoshihide Suga, on Monday and told Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike they could be confident a vaccine would be available by next summer.

The IOC will arrange to ensure vaccination of both participants and visitors before they arrive in Japan, he added. “In order to protect the Japanese people, and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that ... the Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here vaccinated if, by then, a vaccine is available,” he said.

Bach said he would not make vaccination a requirement for Games participants, however, and Olympic participants would not be a priority for a vaccine ahead of “nurses and doctors and people who keep our society alive.”

News of potentially successful vaccines has lifted hopes for the staging of the Games, but public opinion in Japan remains mixed. Nearly 60 percent of respondents in a November poll by TV Asahi said the event should be further postponed or canceled.

Last week Japan reported record new daily cases, sparking concerns of a third wave of infections, although it has mostly avoided the high death tolls recorded elsewhere.

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