(AF) US officials warned Americans not to travel to Japan because of a surge in coronavirus cases – just two months before the delayed Olympic Games is due to start.
While not a ban, the alerts are likely to discourage many citizens, including athletes and officials.
“Travellers should avoid all travel to Japan,” the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new update.
“Because of the current situation in Japan even fully vaccinated travellers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Japan,” the agency added.
The US Olympic & Paralympic Committee said it still anticipates that American athletes will be able to safely compete at the Tokyo Games. No other countries have issued such a severe warning.
Japan opened mass inoculation centres on Monday as it races to vaccinate most of its elderly population before the start of the Tokyo Olympics on July 23.
The centres in Tokyo and Osaka will vaccinate thousands of people every day, giving a boost to Japan’s sluggish inoculation drive as the country battles a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
Just 4.4% of Japan’s population of 125 million have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Reuters’ global tracker, the slowest rate among the world’s larger, rich countries.
‘PEACE OF MIND’
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited the Tokyo site, saying he hoped the rollout of jabs would enable people “regain their peace of mind as soon as possible”.
He said the inoculated elderly people he spoke to at the vaccination centre seemed “relieved”, according to a statement on the prime minister’s official website.
Japan’s armed forces are running the sites. Military doctors and nurses are using the US-developed Moderna vaccine. Japan has also approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Officials said the sites would be open every day for three months from morning until late evening.
Suga said it was regrettable a top government adviser quit his post Monday following a backlash over playing down the pandemic.
Kaetsu University professor Yoichi Takahashi wrote on Twitter that the number of coronavirus cases in Japan was only “a ripple,” adding: “So you’re telling me people want to cancel the Olympics for this? lol lol.”
With reporting by Reuters