Olympics: Coronavirus vaccine news a 'relief' for Tokyo Games

TOKYO • Tokyo Olympics organisers yesterday said news of a possible coronavirus vaccine was a "relief" but insisted their bio-security planning for the postponed Games remained unchanged.

Officials have regularly said that a vaccine is not a precondition for staging the Games, now scheduled to start in July. But they have acknowledged a successful shot would make their task significantly easier, and welcomed the 90 per cent effectiveness shown by a trial vaccine co-developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

"The organising committee is not disconnected from society... and I heard the vaccine news," Tokyo 2020 Games delivery officer Hidemasa Nakamura told reporters at a briefing.

"The organising committee is feeling the same as you probably felt, positive sentiment and relief.

"What we are doing right now is not thinking about the vaccine, because we don't have a vaccine yet, but rather focusing on testing, social distance and also the cooperation between the athletes and the other stakeholders.

"I think that is what we need to do to create a safe Games."

Global markets soared after US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said on Monday tests involving more than 40,000 people had provided results that were a "critical milestone" in the search for a vaccine.

The news is likely to be a shot in the arm for Japanese officials and their Olympic counterparts, who have faced continuing scepticism about whether the Games can be held next year if the pandemic is not under control.

On Sunday, Tokyo safely hosted its first international sporting event since the pandemic, a four-nation gymnastics meet that organisers hailed as proof the Games were possible amid the crisis.

While the event involved only 30 athletes - who had to take daily polymerase chain reaction tests on top of having their movements restricted - as well as 2,000 socially distanced spectators, Nakamura said it was still evidence the Games are feasible.

The Japanese Gymnastics Association also yesterday revealed there had been no positive cases among athletes or staff and International Gymnastics Federation president Morinari Watanabe said the strict safety measures had left participants feeling assured.

"When they arrived in Japan, you could see fear in their eyes," he said.

"They were worried they might be infected. But each day that they spent time in Japan, they managed to ease their fears. At the end of the day, you could see joy."

News of Pfizer's proposed vaccine will likely boost sentiment with over two-thirds of Japanese firms keen for the Games to go ahead next summer, albeit with restrictions on spectator numbers, a poll done by Reuters said.

While most believe any boost to the economy would be limited, it was still "better than nothing".

The results contrasted sharply with public opinion polls earlier this year, with one poll done by broadcaster NHK in July showing two-thirds of respondents felt the Games should either be cancelled or postponed further.

The Reuters survey of large and medium non-financial companies was conducted from Oct 26 to Nov 4 and showed 68 per cent believe the Games should go ahead.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2020, with the headline Olympics: Coronavirus vaccine news a 'relief' for Tokyo Games. Subscribe