Japan mulls over Covid-19 vaccine priority for Olympic athletes, sparking outrage on social media

 Japan's inoculation drive significantly lags behind other major economies.
Japan's inoculation drive significantly lags behind other major economies.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan said on Thursday (April 8) it was not currently looking to prioritise Covid-19 vaccines for Olympic athletes, dismissing a media report that sparked a social media outcry since the country’s inoculations are trailing other major economies.

Only the Pfizer vaccine has so far been approved and just one million people have received the first dose since February out of Japan's population of 126 million. Vaccinations for the elderly are only set to start next week.

This comes against a backdrop of a spike in new cases, ahead of the Olympics that is set to start in July.

According to government officials quoted by Kyodo late on Wednesday, Japan has begun looking into the possibility of making sure its Olympic and Paralympic athletes are all vaccinated by the end of June.

The report provoked outrage on social media, even as Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato assured that there were currently no plans to prioritise athletes.

"Give it to my mother first," wrote a Twitter user. "Athletes are all young and healthy."

Many people noted that the original plan for vaccinations gives priority to medical workers, the elderly and those with chronic conditions, with ordinary citizens unlikely to get theirs before the summer.

"This is really weird. Given that we have no idea if even all the elderly will have received their vaccines by mid-June, you're going to have all the athletes have theirs?" a user with the handle Aoiumi2 posted on Twitter.

While the government has said it will push ahead with the Olympics as planned from July 23, a vast majority of Japanese want the Games to be cancelled or postponed again.

A number of test events for some sports has recently been cancelled or postponed due to concerns about the pandemic, and on Tuesday leading business executive Hiroshi Mikitani wrote on Twitter that holding the Games was "risky".

"Honestly, I feel that the Olympics this summer is just far too risky. I am against it," wrote Mr Mikitani, the chief executive of Japanese e-commerce group Rakuten.

Even so, much of corporate Japan is still mobilised behind the Olympics. Mr Atsushi Katsuki, the chief executive of Asahi Group, said he stood by holding the Games and that the leading beer maker had benefited from being a sponsor.

“I want the Olympics and Paralympic Games to be held,” Mr Katsuki said in an interview with Reuters.

“It’s unfortunate that the Olympics has been scaled down, but we’re not too concerned about that,” he added.