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Hosting Tokyo Olympics During COVID Is Like Gyokusai Suicide

With infections surging, and only 1% of the population fully vaccinated, many say that devoting so many resources to hosting the Summer Games is a recipe for disaster.

Protests against the Tokyo Olympics earlier this month
Daisuke Kondo

-Analysis-

TOKYO — A doctor friend of mine is a member of the Medical Services team for the Tokyo Olympic Games, but right now his attention if focused on New Delhi. "If the current situation continues, Japan will become like India," he told me last week. "We'll be totally unable to fight against the new Indian variant of Covid-19. When the medical system collapses as we fear, hosting the Olympics will be but a wishful dream."

The Tokyo Olympics is planned to kick off on July 23. In view of the current pandemic situation, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Chairman Thomas Bach will visit Japan on May 18th to confirm whether the Olympic Games can be held as scheduled. Right now, the number of coronavirus infections is surging, and the vaccination efforts are faltering badly, with just 1% of the population fully vaccinated.

To curb the pandemic, the Japanese government has declared a third state of emergency for major cities and their neighboring prefectures. Some 70% of Japanese companies have been asked to let their staff work from home, universities have switched to online classes, cinemas and tourist parks are closed, restaurants are open until eight o'clock in the evening but no alcohol can be served anytime of the day.

Why is it that Japan has failed to come up with its own vaccine?

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the unemployment rate and closures of companies have multiplied. Numerous restaurants where I eat regularly sent me messages one by one to apologize that they are shutting down permanently. Some had been around for more than 30 years.

But there are other even more puzzling factors. First, why is it that Japan has failed to come up with its own vaccine? The pharmaceutical companies in the US, China, Russia and Britain have all successfully developed vaccines and have given priority to their residents. Yet, Japan, the country that likes to boast that it's "the only developed country in Asia" has fallen far behind on this front.

After Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited the US in April, he proudly claimed that "During my stay in the US, I had a telephone conversation with the general manager of Pfizer and he promised to provide Japan with the vaccine." I couldn't understand his mentality, as the leader of a country, to be so proud about having to beg for such favors.

Japan_Olympics_2020

The Olympic rings in front of the New National Stadium, in Tokyo. — Photo: Cezary Kowalski/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Secondly, why is it that people over 65 were given priority in receiving the jabs? The need of giving it to the medical corps as a priority is fully understandable, but why isn't it the working-age population instead of the elderly? The elderly can easily stay at home while people who make up the workforce have to get out of the door to earn their bread. In order to increase the herd immunity and to suppress the increase of infections, it is reasonable to give vaccination first to the working-age population.

In Japan, 36 million of the overall population of 126 million are people over 65. And like my parents put it – we all have a retirement pension and have no need to go out and work. Moreover, it's probable that one's health condition worsens after receiving a vaccine so we don't want to be vaccinated. Lots of people our age share the same thinking. Yet Suga's explanation is that it's more likely for an elderly infected by Covid-19 to become seriously ill, and jabs help to reduce the number of deaths and hospitalizations.

To look at the issue deep down, however, one can't help suspecting that the real motivation is just to pave the way for the run up to Japan's general election this coming fall. It is hard to imagine that Suga would disappoint these 36 million potential voters.

More than 65% oppose hosting the Olympic Games as scheduled.

So, the remaining question is – can the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics be held as planned if the pandemic continues to wreak havoc?

On April 28, the Aichi Prefecture federation of Medical Worker's Unions based in Nagoya protested on Twitter calling "to stop hosting the Tokyo Games'. "Under current circumstances, nurses will be too swamped with the pandemic to attend the games." The message immediately gained thousands of supporters.

And in April, the Jiji Press, a Japanese news agency conducted a survey on the public's opinion of the games. More than 39% of those surveyed thought that "the Olympic Games should be called off"; 29% thought that it should be held as scheduled; and 26% of the respondents thought that it should be rescheduled a second time. In other words, more than 65% of Japanese people oppose hosting the Olympic Games, beginning July 23.

Suga wants to go ahead with the Olympic Games, with his eye squarely on the upcoming elections. In referring to his determination, the press even used the term gyokusai, literally "shattered jade" in Japanese, meaning to fight to the last person without surrendering. With only around two months ahead of the scheduled Tokyo Olympics, are the Japanese people being forced to engage in a COVID "gyokusai"? We'll know soon enough.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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