Ahead of the Olympics, the Japanese minister said the rise of Tokyo Covid could worsen further

Japan is working closely with the International Olympic Committee to prepare for the Games, and despite worries about the flare-up of Covid-19 cases, they have no plans to postpone it, the Japanese minister in charge of vaccinations said.

“Unless they decide otherwise, we simply need to prepare for the Games, how to manage the situation. I think that changes almost every day, so they need to be prepared for that. But I don’t think they would think of a postponement,” Taro Kono told CNBC To Martin Soong on Wednesday.

The Olympic torch was removed from Osaka’s public street on Wednesday as the prefecture declared a state of emergency after cases of the coronavirus reached record highs.

“Yes, the situation in Osaka is particularly worrying,” said Kono, who is also the minister of regulatory reform. A new version of the virus, similar to the one first discovered in the UK, is “spreading rapidly” in Osaka, he added.

“We’ve identified a similar mutation in Tokyo, so we’re afraid Tokyo may follow Osaka in a few weeks. So we really need to pay attention to the situation,” he said.

A man wearing a face mask stands behind the Olympic symbols of the five overlapping rings seen near Tokyo National Stadium.

James Matsumoto, SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

The population of Osaka is much smaller than that of Tokyo, but the city reported 878 new cases on April 7, compared to 555 in Tokyo that day.

In Tokyo, just over 100 days from now, the Summer Olympics will officially begin on July 23rd. They are late last year because of the coronavirus epidemic.

Nevertheless, the games are highly projected compared to previous years, as concerns about Covid-19 have prevented international spectators from entering the country.

“Well, unfortunately, we may not have as many spectators watching the match in the stadium, but most people will definitely watch it on television,” Kono said.

Delays in the introduction of the Japanese vaccine

Japan will vaccinate the country’s senior citizens from Monday and move on to the next phase of vaccine introduction, which has been hampered by delays in vaccine delivery.

Kono says less than 1% of the population has been vaccinated so far – but hopes the vaccinations will move in full swing in mid-May when vaccinations from the European Union arrive.

“Unfortunately, we could not develop a vaccine domestically and we have to rely on imports of vaccine from the EU,” Kono said. “We have currently authorized the Pfizer vaccination and it will start for the elderly next Monday.”

He said the vaccine, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, will be “very important” because it will be manufactured in Japan, which would interrupt some negotiations.

He was interviewed hours ago before EU and UK drug regulators announced on Wednesday that there could be a possible link between the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and rare blood clotting problems. However, both regulators pointed out that the benefits of getting vaccinated still outweigh the risks.

My job is to get vaccinated from Europe to Japan and (to) vaccinate as many people as possible.

Taro Kono

Minister of Vaccines of Japan

“The biggest headache for me is going through the (EU) transparency mechanism,” Kono said, referring to a measure that would allow EU member states to impose restrictions on vaccine exports.

“If we have (a) a home vaccine or a domestically produced vaccine, more than half of my headaches are (would be) gone,” he said.

Asked whether tackling Japan’s coronavirus epidemic could affect the chances of the next prime minister, Kono was dismissive.

“My job is to get the vaccine from Europe to Japan and (to) vaccinate as many people as possible,” he said. “You don’t have to think about the premiere. You just have to do your job to protect people (their lives).”