James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
US advises against all travel to Japan two months before Tokyo Olympics
24 May 2021, 23:49
The US State department and health officials are warning against all travel to Japan due to a rise in Covid-19 cases in the nation just two months before the Tokyo Olympics.
The games are set to open on 23 July following a one-year delay due to the coronavirus.
But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday: "Travelers should avoid all travel to Japan.
“Because of the current situation in Japan even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Japan.”
The State Department's warning came just after the CDC's and raised the travel alert from Level 3 - Reconsider travel - to Level 4 - Do not travel.
Although the two warnings do not ban Americans from visiting another country, it is feared it could cause insurance rates to skyrocket.
There has been no indication on whether or not the news has caused American Olympians to reconsider their decision to compete in the games.
Japan has mobilised military doctors and nurses to vaccinate elderly people in Tokyo and Osaka as the government desperately tries to accelerate its vaccination rollout and curb coronavirus infections.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is determined to hold the games and has made an ambitious pledge to finish vaccinating the country's 36 million elderly people by the end of July, despite scepticism it is possible.
Worries about public safety while many Japanese remain unvaccinated have prompted growing protests and calls for cancelling the Games set to start on July 23.
Mr Suga's government has repeatedly expanded the area and duration of a largely request-based virus state of emergency since late April and has made its virus-fighting measures stricter.
Currently, Tokyo and nine other areas that are home to 40% of the country's population are under the emergency and further extension is deemed unavoidable.
With Covid-19 cases still persistently high, Mr Suga now says vaccines are key to getting the infections under control.
He has not made vaccinations conditional to holding the Olympics and has arranged for Pfizer to donate its vaccine for athletes through the International Olympic Committee, while trying to speed up Japan's inoculation drive as anti-Olympic sentiment grows.
At the two mass inoculation centres staffed by Japan's Self-Defence Forces, the aim is to inoculate up to 10,000 people per day in Tokyo and another 5,000 per day in Osaka for the next three months.
In hardest-hit Osaka, where patients are overflowing from hospitals, tens of thousands of people are getting sicker or even dying at home, dozens of people lined up before the inoculation centre opened early on Monday.
In Tokyo, workers held up signs to direct vaccine recipients into the centre.
Some recipients told reporters they took taxis or shuttle buses to get to the centre and avoid packed commuter trains.
People inoculated at the centres on Monday were the first in Japan to receive doses from Moderna, one of two foreign-developed vaccines Japan approved on Friday.
Previously Japan had used only Pfizer, and only about 2% of the population of 126 million has received the required two doses.