By ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Being vaccinated against COVID-19 will not be a requirement to compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, organizers said Thursday.
The 2020 Summer Olympics were supposed to kick off in the Japanese capital last year on July 24. But in late March, amid mounting calls to delay or cancel the upcoming Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Japan’s prime minister announced that the event would be held a year later due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Games are now scheduled to open in Tokyo this summer on July 23, but doubt has surfaced as Japan — and much of the world — grapples with a resurgence of COVID-19 infections. Moreover, Japan is not expected to begin administering its first round of COVID-19 vaccinations until the end of February.
During a press briefing Thursday following a call with the IOC’s president, organizers were asked how Japan will safely host the Olympics as scheduled when the country’s mass vaccination campaign is not expected to inoculate most of the population by that date.
“Since last year, we have been having thorough debates and discussions on that topic. We do not consider the vaccine as a prerequisite,” Toshiro Muto, chief executive officer of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, told reporters. “Of course, it’s desirable to have as many people as possible vaccinated, and that would bring about positive benefit. But even if vaccination is not done, we will be able to hold the Games.”
Muto added that COVID-19 vaccinations would be administered to athletes but it wouldn’t be an obligation.
As for vaccinating staff and volunteers, Muto said that decision will be made at the national government level.
Yoshiro Mori, president of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said they are still considering holding the Games without spectators.
“One option among many would be to hold the games without spectators,” he told reporters. “We don’t want to do this but we must take this scenario into consideration.”
With less than six months left until the opening day, a recent poll by Japanese news agency Kyodo found that around 80% of people in Japan believe the Tokyo Olympics should not be held this summer. When asked by ABC News about that opinion, Mori said: “There is a balance. On one hand there is criticism, the other hand is support.”
Mori noted that the IOC’s president has “strongly backed up our efforts” to hold the Tokyo Olympics as planned.
“Nowhere did we hear objections or doubt,” he told reporters. “Everyone wants to successful hold the games.”
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