Olympics-Japan postpones torch exhibitions over COVID-19 fears

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Japan is halting a public display of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic torches as new virus cases jump in the country and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga orders a state of emergency for Tokyo and the surrounding areas until next month.

Tokyo reported 2,447 new cases on Thursday. This is a jump of 850 cases just over 50 percent from the day before. Tokyo was reporting just a few hundred new cases a few months ago.

Meanwhile, the International Olympic Committee is working on ways to get athletes the coronavirus jab in the second or third wave so that the Tokyo Games can go ahead safely in July, the Guardian has been told.

While insisting that we “do not want to queue jump”, IOC sources are hoping athletes from around the globe will be high up on the vaccination list, once key workers and the vulnerable are given the jab.

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Several sources in the Olympic movement have also indicated that they remain confident the Games will take place in some form this summer.

However the rise of several new coronavirus variants and the steep jump in cases in Japan has led to a growing desire to get athletes vaccinated in the coming weeks and months.

The IOC is aware that it needs to tread a fine line between ensuring athlete safety and appearing overly pushy, and there were some eyebrows raised in Lausanne on Tuesday when one IOC member, Dick Pound, suggested there would be no public outcry if athletes jumped the queue and that “it was the most realistic way” of ensuring the Tokyo Olympics went ahead.

IOC sources stressed to the Guardian that the situation was more nuanced than Pound had made out.

Previously the IOC president, Thomas Bach, has encouraged athletes to have a Covid-19 vaccination before Tokyo 2020 but insisted it would not be an entry requirement.

That is partly because there is an appreciation that some athletes’ faith may mean they are uneasy about using a vaccine containing pork-derived gelatin, which is widely used as a stabiliser to ensure it remains safe and effective during storage and transport.

While not commenting on Pound’s comments, or suggestions it wanted athletes to be vaccinated in the second or third wave, the IOC did confirm it would be making “all efforts to have as many foreign participants as possible” vaccinated before the Games.