Japan’s vaccine push ahead of Olympics looks to be too late

Japan, seriously behind in coronavirus vaccination efforts, is scrambling to boost daily shots as the start of the Olympics in July closes in. (File/AP)
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Updated 01 June 2021

Japan’s vaccine push ahead of Olympics looks to be too late

  • Japan is vowing to soon start administering 1 million doses daily from its current 500,000 daily jabs
  • More than three months into its vaccination campaign, only 2.7 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated

TOKYO: It may be too little, too late.

That’s the realization sinking in as Japan scrambles to catch up on a frustratingly slow vaccination drive less than two months before the Summer Olympics, delayed by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, are scheduled to start.

The Olympics risk becoming an incubator for “a Tokyo variant,” as 15,000 foreign athletes and tens of thousands officials, sponsors and journalists from about 200 countries descend on — and potentially mix with — a largely unvaccinated Japanese population, said Dr. Naoto Ueyama, a physician, head of the Japan Doctors Union.

With infections in Tokyo and other heavily populated areas currently at high levels and hospitals already under strain treating serious cases despite a state of emergency, experts have warned there is little slack in the system.

Even if the country succeeds in meeting its goal of fully vaccinating all 36 million elderly by the end of July — already a week into the Games — about 70 percent of the population would not be inoculated. And many have dismissed the target as overly optimistic anyway.

To meet it, Japan is vowing to soon start administering 1 million doses daily. It currently is only giving 500,000 per day, already a big improvement after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called on military doctors and nurses and started making legal exceptions to recruit other vaccinators in order to boost the drive.

“Vaccinations under the current pace are not going to help prevent infections during the Olympics,” Tokyo Medical Association Chairman Haruo Ozaki said. “The Olympics can trigger a global spread of different variants of the virus.”

The International Olympic Committee says more than 80 percent of athletes and staff staying in the Olympic Village on Tokyo Bay will be vaccinated — and they are expected to remain largely in a bubble at the village and venues.

But vaccination rates are not clear for other participants coming from abroad, including hard-hit regions, and experts warn that even strict rules won’t prevent all mingling, especially among non-athletes.

Prominent medical journals have questioned the wisdom of pushing ahead with the Tokyo Games and the Asahi Shimbun — the country’s second-largest newspaper — has called for them to be canceled, reflecting widespread opposition to holding the Olympics now among the Japanese population.

But the government has said it’s determined to push ahead, with the viability of Suga’s leadership and geopolitical competition with rival Beijing, the next Olympics host, as well as the health of millions, on the line.

“By using a new weapon called vaccines and taking firm preventive measures, it is fully possible” to hold the Olympics safely, Suga told a parliamentary session Tuesday.

Officials are now desperately trying to think of ways to increase the shots at a time when medical workers are already under pressure treating COVID-19 patients. Many say they have no extra resources to help with the Olympics, if, for instance, the boiling Japanese summer causes widespread cases of heat stroke. Some local leaders in and around Tokyo have rejected the Olympics organizers’ requests to set aside beds for athletes.

Dr. Shigeru Omi, former World Health Organization regional director and a head of a government taskforce, said it is crucial to start inoculating younger people, who are seen as likely to spread the virus, as soon as possible.

More than three months into Japan’s vaccination campaign, only 2.7 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated. The country started its rollout with health care workers in mid-February, months behind many other countries because Japan required additional clinical testing here, a step many experts say was medically meaningless.

Inoculations for the elderly, who are more likely to suffer serious problems when infected, started in mid-April, but were slowed by initial supply shortages, cumbersome reservation procedures and a lack of medical workers to give shots.

But there are signs of improvement. The vaccine supply has increased and despite earlier expectations of a hesitant response to vaccines in general, senior citizens fearful of the virus are rushing to inoculation sites.

Since May 24, Japan has deployed 280 military doctors and nurses in Tokyo and the badly hit city of Osaka. More than 33,000 vaccination sites now operate across Japan, and more are coming, said Taro Kono, the minister in charge of vaccinations.

In Sumida, a district in downtown Tokyo where boxing events will be held, vaccinations for its 61,000 elderly residents began on May 10, and within two weeks, 31 percent of them had gotten their first shots, compared to the national average of 3.7 percent. Sumida is now looking to start inoculating younger people later this month, well ahead of schedule.

Close coordination among primary care doctors, hospitals and residents, as well as flexibility, have contributed to smooth progress, Sumida district spokesperson Yosuke Yatabe said.

“It’s like a factory line,” Yatabe said.

Ryuichiro Suzuki, a 21-year-old university student in Tokyo, said he is frustrated with Japan’s lagging vaccination campaign.

“I saw that some of my friends overseas have been vaccinated, but my turn won’t come until later this summer,” he said. “The risk-averse government took extra caution even when our primary goal was to get back to normal as soon as possible.”

Kono, the vaccine minister, said more large-scale inoculation centers are getting underway, including at hundreds of college campuses and offices to start vaccinating younger people from June 21.

Beyond the concerns about the Olympics and despite the fact that Japan has seen fewer cases and deaths compared to the United States and other advanced nations, the country’s slow pace of vaccinations and its prolonged, often toothless state of emergency could also delay its economic recovery for months, said Masaya Sasaki, senior economist at the Nomura Research Institute.

And despite repeated expressions of official government confidence in the Games being safe, there are fears here of what might happen if vaccinations don’t pick up.

“The Olympics, billed as a recovery Games, can trigger a new disaster,” said Ueyama, of the Japan Doctors Union.


Chelsea boss Tuchel given one-game ban after Spurs red card

Updated 19 August 2022

Chelsea boss Tuchel given one-game ban after Spurs red card

  • Tuchel's touchline ban has been suspended temporarily, pending the full written reasons for the decision
  • Conte has been fined £15,000 after both managers admitted improper conduct

LONDON: Thomas Tuchel has been given a one-match suspension and fined £35,000 ($41,000) after the Chelsea manager was sent off following his furious clash with Tottenham boss Antonio Conte, the Football Association (FA) said on Friday.
Tuchel’s touchline ban has been suspended temporarily, pending the full written reasons for the decision, allowing the German to take his place in the dugout for Sunday’s Premier League clash at Leeds.
Conte has been fined £15,000 after both managers admitted improper conduct following a pair of angry exchanges during last Sunday’s stormy 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge.
Tuchel and Conte were booked after they first squared up to each other when the Italian celebrated Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s equalizer close to the Chelsea technical area.
Then, after Harry Kane headed Tottenham’s second equalizer deep into stoppage-time, Tuchel shook hands with Conte at the final whistle in such an aggressive way that it drew a fiery response from his counterpart.
The feuding bosses had to be separated by players and coaching staff, but were both sent off by referee Anthony Taylor.
“An independent regulatory commission has today ordered that Thomas Tuchel be fined £35,000 and banned from the touchline for one match, and Antonio Conte be fined £15,000 after they respectively breached FA Rule E3,” the FA said.
“Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte admitted that their behavior after the final whistle of the Premier League game between Chelsea FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC on Sunday, August 14 2022 was improper, and both managers requested a paper hearing.
“These sanctions are subject to appeal, and Thomas Tuchel’s one-match touchline ban has been suspended temporarily pending the independent regulatory commission’s written reasons for its decision that will be made available in due course.”


Police recover Lewandowski’s watch, stolen while signing autographs

Updated 19 August 2022

Police recover Lewandowski’s watch, stolen while signing autographs

  • A young man approached and snatched the watch from the player's wrist
  • Spanish media reported the watch was a Patek Phillippe worth 70,000 euros

BARCELONA: Police said they had recovered Robert Lewandowski’s watch, stolen as the star striker signed autographs before a Barcelona training session.
The incident occurred on Thursday afternoon when the 33-year-old striker, who joined from German club Bayern Munich in July, arrived at training and stopped in front of fans for autographs, Catalan police told AFP Friday.
A young man approached and snatched the watch from the player’s wrist.
Spanish media reported the watch was a Patek Phillippe worth 70,000 euros ($70,300) and that Lewandowski climbed back in his car and gave chase but lost the thief.
The police were alerted at 4:30 p.m. local time (1430 GMT) and within an hour they had caught the 19-year-old, who was hiding in the bushes around the stadium. They recovered the watch which was nearby.
He was arrested for “robbery with violence,” the police said. They explained that even though Lewandowski was not hurt, taking the watch off his body was considered violent.


PSG coach denies bad blood between Neymar and Mbappe

Updated 19 August 2022

PSG coach denies bad blood between Neymar and Mbappe

  • Neymar insisted on taking the team's second penalty against Montpellier last Saturday after Mbappe had missed the first
  • Mbappe did not celebrate after Neymar converted the spot-kick

SAINT-GERMAIN-EN-LAYE, France: Paris Saint-Germain coach Christophe Galtier said on Friday there is no bad blood between star forward Kylian Mbappe and Neymar.
Neymar insisted on taking the team’s second penalty against Montpellier last Saturday after Mbappe had missed the first.
Mbappe did not celebrate after Neymar converted the spot-kick.
Galtier called the apparent differences between the two an “epiphenomenon,” suggesting the spat was not a symptom of any deeper problem.
“We saw each other quickly the next day to iron out all that, to say what we had to say to each other,” said Galtier told a press conference ahead of Sunday’s Ligue 1 visit to Lille.
“We had a very pleasant week at work. Everyone worked well. I enjoyed all the sessions this week and this epiphenomenon disappeared very quickly, that is to say the day after our meeting.”
Galtier said after the game that instructions “had been respected” regarding penalty takers.
“There was a precise order in this game, Kylian as number one and ‘Ney’ as number two.”
Other potential penalty takers include Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos, said Galtier, adding that it was “important for our strikers to score goals, to keep the confidence.”
Against Montpellier, in his first competitive game since opting to stay in Paris rather than join Real Madrid, the 23-year-old Mbappe scored in a 5-2 win but cut a frustrated, unhappy and even isolated figure.
Last season, Mbappe was PSG’s outstanding performer, scoring 39 goals in all competitions, while Neymar struggled.
Yet the 30-year-old Brazilian has seemed rejuvenated this season, scoring five goals in three games.


Man Utd agree to sign Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro

Updated 19 August 2022

Man Utd agree to sign Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro

  • United are set to pay an initial 60 million euros plus a further 10 million euros in add-ons for the 30-year-old
  • "He wants to try a new challenge, a new opportunity and I and the club understand that," said Ancelotti

LONDON: Manchester United have agreed to sign Real Madrid midfielder Casemiro in a deal worth up to a reported £60 million ($70 million).
United manager Erik ten Hag has been desperate to land a defensive midfielder since taking charge at Old Trafford and has finally settled for Casemiro after failing to sign Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong.
Troubled United, who sit bottom of the Premier League after embarrassing defeats against Brighton and Brentford, are set to pay an initial £50 million.
The overall fee would rise by another £10 million if certain clauses in the contract are met.
Casemiro has been offered a four-year contract with the option of a further 12-month extension, with the transfer subject to the agreement of personal terms.
The 30-year-old joined Real from Sao Paulo in 2013 and has been a key figure in midfield for the Spanish club, winning five Champions League titles.
“Manchester United is delighted to announce that the club has reached agreement with Real Madrid for the transfer of Casemiro,” a statement from United said on Friday.
“The transfer is subject to the agreement of personal terms, UK visa requirements and a medical.”
Ten Hag refused to discuss the transfer at his press conference on Friday, but Real boss Carlo Ancelotti was more forthcoming when speaking to the media in Spain.
“I’ve discussed it with him this morning. He wants to try a new challenge, a new opportunity,” Ancelotti said.
“The club understand it. With all he’s done for this club and the person he is, we have to respect it.
“If he doesn’t stay, we’ll have an enormous sense of gratitude to him for all he’s done. We have replacements within the squad.”
Casemiro played alongside current United stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane at Real.
His arrival will fill a void in Ten Hag’s midfield after his prolonged pursuit of De Jong ended in failure.
Casemiro’s wealth of experience and success at the highest level will make him a certain starter instead of either Fred or Scott McTominay in central midfield.
He is unlikely to be available for United’s next match against arch rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford on Monday.
Instead, Casemiro’s debut could come at Southampton in the Premier League on August 27.


Medvedev advances to quarterfinals, Swiatek sinks in Cincy

Updated 19 August 2022

Medvedev advances to quarterfinals, Swiatek sinks in Cincy

  • Top seed Medvedvev kept Denis Shapovalov winless against world No. 1s with a 7-5, 7-5 victory
  • Unseeded Keys was thrilled with her defeat of Swiatek, against whom she had lost two prior matches

CINCINNATI, US: Top-ranked Daniil Medvedev advanced to the ATP and WTA Cincinnati Masters quarterfinals on Thursday while women’s world No. 1 Iga Swiatek was upset by American Madison Keys.

Top seed Medvedvev kept Denis Shapovalov winless against world No. 1s with a 7-5, 7-5 victory while Poland’s Swiatek lost 6-3, 6-4 to 2019 Cincinnati champion Keys, who needed five match points to finish off the shock triumph.

Shapovalov, who lost in an hour and three-quarters, has dropped all eight career matches he has played against the elite echelon.

Medvedev moved into a quarterfinal against 11th seed Taylor Fritz after the American stopped No. 6 seed Andrey Rublev 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 7-5.

“It was a fight today, definitely not easy,” said Medvedev, who clinched the top US Open seeding when Rafael Nadal lost here in the second round.

“The match was pretty tight, played at a great level. My goal was to stay in every point possible and try to put pressure on him if I had the chance.”

Medvedev secured late breaks in both sets as he matched his volatile Canadian opponent.

Medvedev and Fritz have never played.

“We trained together at the start of the season before the ATP Cup,” Medvedev said. “He won Indian Wells, he’s a Masters champion. I need to be at my best to try and beat him.”

Unseeded Keys was thrilled with her defeat of Swiatek, against whom she had lost two prior matches.

“I had a couple of games with a couple of match points,” Keys said. “She beat me pretty badly last time so I’m happy to get the win.”

Swiatek never found an ace and was broken five times as she fought back in vain after standing one game from defeat.

It was the second week in a row that the Pole, who put together a 37-match win streak this season, lost in a Masters third round. She suffered the same fate in Toronto seven days earlier.

Keys plays on Friday against Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina, who advanced to the last eight 6-2, 6-4 over Alison Riske-Amritraj.

Also ousted was Estonian second seed Anett Kontaveit, who fell to China’s Zhang Shuai 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Top-ranked American Jessica Pegula ended the run of US Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4, sending the Briton onto the practice courts before the Aug. 29 start of her Grand Slam title defense.

Raducanu will head to New York with a 15-18 record since her 2021 title triumph and will drop from the top-10 after failing to reach the quarterfinals.

The teenager put a backhand into the net to give her opponent a match point, with Pegula sending over a service winner to wrap up the victory in an hour and three-quarters on her opponent’s 21st unforced error.

“I didn’t feel amazing out there,” Pegula said after reaching her seventh career quarter-final at a Masters 1000. “I’ve never hit with Emma, there was a lot to get used to.

“I’m happy with how I competed and stayed in it. I’m glad I handled things really well. I’ve been playing very consistently, no dramas, get out there and do what you’ve got to do. I try to do that every single week.”

Czech Petra Kvitova, twice a Wimbledon champion, defeated Wimbledon finalist Ons Jabeur 6-1, 4-6, 6-0. Kvitova broke six times as her fifth-ranked Tunisian opponent committed six double-faults.

Borna Coric, who upset second seed Rafael Nadal, continued his injury comeback progress by beating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-2, 6-3.

No. 152 Coric is the lowest-ranked ATP Masters 1000 quarter-finalist since 239th-ranked Ivo Karlovic at 2011 Indian Wells.

Fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, semifinalist at the last two editions, defeated Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-3.

John Isner sent down 20 aces in a 7-6 (7/3), 1-6, 7-6 (7/4) defeat of US compatriot Sebastian Korda. At 37, Isner is the oldest Cincinnati men’s quarterfinalist in the post-1968 Open era.

Isner passed Roger Federer, who was a younger 37 when he reached his most recent Cincinnati quarterfinal in 2018.