Approximately 100 South Korean athletes and coaches travelling to Japan for the Olympics this year received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine, as the country struggles to keep its inoculation drive on track amid supply shortages.
Approximately 500 others will be vaccinated by the first week of May, before they travel to Japan, the Korean Sport and Olympic Committee (KSOC) said on Thursday.
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Overall, more than 900 people from South Korea’s proposed delegation will be vaccinated.
The games, pushed back by a year due to the pandemic, are set to run from July 23 until August 8.
Organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics rolled out stricter coronavirus countermeasures on Wednesday, including a plan to test athletes daily, as they try to reassure a Japanese public made increasingly sceptical by the resurgent pandemic.
Vaccination not mandatory
COVID-19 vaccinations are not mandatory for participation in the Olympics, but are recommended.
On Thursday, South Korea said coronavirus infection rates over the next few days would determine whether authorities adjust social distancing rules for upcoming weeks.
“Most of the transmission routes are from coming into contact with confirmed patients,” Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told a COVID-19 response meeting on Thursday.
Kwon said the vaccination programme is picking up speed and reaffirmed the government’s pledge to vaccinate 12 million people in the key groups, including front-line workers and the elderly, by June and reach herd immunity by November.
Nearly 2.7 million South Koreans out of a population of 52 million have received their first vaccine dose, bringing the vaccination rate to just above 4 percent.
South Korea reported 680 new COVID-19 cases as of midnight on Wednesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 121,351, and the total number of deaths to 1,825.
Japan, meanwhile, declared a third state of emergency for Tokyo and three western prefectures last week as the country struggles to contain a resurgent coronavirus pandemic just three months before the Olympics.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announced the emergency for Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo from April 25 through May 11.
A recent uptick in cases has worried officials and medical professionals as the government and Olympic organisers insist the games will go ahead this year.