Bach: Tokyo Olympic 'participants' encouraged to get vaccine

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Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, right, greets International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach during their meeting in Tokyo Monday, Nov. 16, 2020. (Kazuhiro Nogi/Pool Photo via AP)

TOKYO – Olympic “participants” and fans arriving for next year's postponed Tokyo Games will be encouraged to be vaccinated to protect the Japanese public, IOC President Thomas Bach said Monday.

Bach said it won't be mandatory, but he left no doubt it will be strongly pushed.

Bach campaigned across Tokyo on Monday, his first visit to Japan since the Olympics were postponed almost eight months ago amid the coronavirus pandemic. He met support at all stops; from Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Yoshiro Mori, the head of the local organizing committee and also a former prime minister.

“In order to protect the Japanese people and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that as many (people) as possible — Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here (with a) vaccine, if by then a vaccine is available,” Bach said after talks with Suga.

“We want to convince as many foreign participants as possible to accept a vaccine," Bach added later after meeting with Mori. "This makes us all very confident that we can have spectators in the Olympic stadia next year and that spectators will enjoy a safe environment.”

Bach lauded new advances in rapid testing as a boost to hold the games. He said Olympic participants would not be a priority for a vaccine ahead of “nurses and doctors and people who keep our society alive.” And he repeated several times that next year's Olympics would be the “light at the end of this dark tunnel.”

Bach suggested the IOC would cover at least some of the costs of vaccination. But he said he did not yet know how much the one-year delay would cost. Reports in Japan estimate it will be $2 billion to $3 billion.

“This will take time,” he said. “It's impossible now to have a sound figure.”