Update (1340ET): Shortly after the warnings from Masa-san and news (below) of Japan's push for a amass vaccination program, the US State Department has cranked up the pressure to '11' by issuing a Level 4 Travel Advisory for visitors to Japan.
"Do not travel to Japan due to COVID-19."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 4 Travel Health Notice for Japan due to COVID-19, indicating a very high level of COVID-19 in the country. There are restrictions in place affecting U.S. citizen entry into Japan. Visit the Embassy's COVID-19 page for more information on COVID-19 in Japan.
Read the country information page.
So the question is - will the US send their athletes?
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Much to the chagrin of Japan's political leaders, worsening COVID-19 cases are prompting more critics, including SoftBank Chairman Masayoshi Son (one of the country's most high-profile businessmen), to warn that the Olympics should be canceled as hospitals in the country's second-largest city, Osaka, struggle to treat a huge wave of hospitalized patients as Japan becomes the latest Asian nation to fall victim to a new wave of the virus.
The western Japanese region of Osaka is home to 9 million people, and is suffering the brunt of what Reuters described as Japan's "fourth wave of the pandemic."
Only half of the region's medical staff are vaccinated, which "underscores the challenge of hosting a major global sports event in two months time," Reuters added.
"Simply put, this is a collapse of the medical system," said Yuji Tohda, the director of Kindai University Hospital in Osaka.
Fortunately for the government, the surge is already showing some signs of abating. Tokyo, the site of the upcoming Summer Olympics (which were postponed after the pandemic made the Games a virtual impossibility last year) reported 340 new cases on Monday, down from 535 a day earlier, bringing the seven-day average of new cases in the capital to 638, which is 18.7% lower than the prior week. Osaka meanwhile registered 216 new infections, down from 274 a day ago and the first time in two months that the number of new cases in the western Japan prefecture fell below 300 for two consecutive days. Tokyo, Osaka and seven other prefectures are currently under a state of emergency that has been extended through May 31. Japan has recorded more than 700,000 infections and 12,000 Covid-19 deaths from the virus.
Masa Son originally voiced his criticisms a few days ago, saying "Currently more than 80% of people want the Olympics to be postponed or cancelled. Who and on what authority is it being forced through?"
今、国民の8割以上が延期か中止を希望しているオリンピック。誰が何の権利で強行するのだろうか。— 孫正義 (@masason) May 22, 2021
In a follow-up tweet late on Sunday, Son wrote: “Does the IOC (International Olympic Committee) have the power to decide that the Games would go ahead?
IOCに開催の決定権があるのかなぁ？— 孫正義 (@masason) May 23, 2021
Just as Masa Son - who has occasionally been described as 'Japan's Warren Buffett' - was criticizing the government for being a "vaccine laggard" and saying the slow pace of the country's innoculation drive could put lives at risk, Japan has deployed its Self-Defense Forces (remember, Japan technically doesn't have its own army) to aid in its vaccination drive, speeding up inoculations targeting 36MM people over the age of 65. Medical officers and nurses will be stationed at two vaccination sites in Tokyo and Osaka, according to the BBC.
The centers will give out thousands of shots each day, prioritizing the elderly. Right now, only 5% of Japan's population is fully vaccinated.
Officials are planning to vaccinate up to 5,000 people in Tokyo and 2,500 in Osaka every day with the recently approved Moderna jab, while in June and July this capacity is set to double.
Mass vaccination facilities are also planned for other major cities like Kobe and Nagoya.
As for the Olympic Games, just last week the IOC declared that they will "absolutely" proceed, though travel and capacity restrictions will of course limit the number of spectators.