The 2020 Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo, Japan, from 23 July to 8 August, one year later than they were originally scheduled to take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is unclear, however, whether or not the country and the world are ready for a global spectacle of that size.
Japan’s vaccination programme started later and more slowly than in other top economies, and the influx of around 15,000 people from more than 200 countries worldwide will be a huge logistical challenge due to the pandemic. Only local fans will be allowed at the Olympic venues, but the large inflow of people and Japan’s low vaccination rate still leave room for local outbreaks, particularly considering the increasing prevalence of more transmissible SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Japan managed the pandemic well compared to many countries in Europe and the Americas, and the country’s current infection numbers are very low. But the country’s vaccination programme has been slow and is lagging behind other top economies, with only 25% of the population partially vaccinated and 13.8% of the population fully vaccinated. The pace of vaccinations has, however, rapidly increased, from 0.05 doses for every 100 people a day at the beginning of May to 0.91 doses for every 100 people a day at the end of June. This has put the country on par with Western European countries and matching the pace of the US in mid-April. Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca are currently authorised in Japan.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) assumes that around 80% of residents in the Olympic village will be vaccinated, and has noted that foreign fans are not allowed to attend the games. The lack of vaccine access in many countries that are participating in the games, however, shows not only a problem for the Olympic games themselves, but even more so for the global efforts to end the Covid-19 pandemic. Compared to most countries in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Japan’s vaccination programme is fairly progressed.
If the global community put as much effort and money into giving access to and distributing Covid-19 vaccines, as well as keeping SARS-CoV-2 outbreaks under control, as it has put into preparing for the Olympic games and vaccinating athletes, many lockdowns, hospitalisations and Covid-19 deaths could be prevented. Covid-19 vaccine supplies are still limited in most countries, with an unequal distribution of vaccines worldwide. Some countries, like the US, now have far more vaccine doses than needed.
As well as this, vaccine contracts, particularly from the US and EU, are set to lock up the highly effective messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna for the next several years if manufacturing capacities are not significantly increased. If the pandemic continues in parts of the world with no vaccine access, new SARS-CoV-2 mutations that can threaten even vaccinated people will arise, leading to negative outcomes worldwide. A global effort is thus required, as the emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants will only stop if most of the global population is vaccinated.