ACCELERATED VACCINATION DRIVE WILL ENSURE HOLDING TOKYO OLYMPICS
On the last day of the G7 summit meeting in Cornwall in southwest England last Sunday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he won “very strong support” from his counterparts for holding the Olympics in Tokyo this summer, declaring: “As the prime minister of the host country, I have made a fresh resolve to make the Games a success at all costs.”
Suga looked characteristically composed as he explained that the leaders appreciated Japan sparing no effort to prepare for a safe and secure Games amid a national crisis.
How Japan will contain the Wuhan virus and its more potent variants will hold the key to staging the sports extravaganza (July 23-August 8). Vaccination is the only means currently available for mankind to combat the pandemic. In that sense an acceleration and expansion of the government’s large-scale inoculation drive will constitute the decisive factor. In this column three weeks ago, I reported on my experience at a Minato Ward community center in Tokyo where I received my first shot. I got my second shot at the same center last Sunday.
This time the center was clearly run far more efficiently in many ways. Because it was the first day of mass inoculation for senior residents of the ward when I visited the center on May 22, ward officials must have been at a loss on a number of counts. On my second visit, however, there was no marked waste of time or action representative of a stodgy bureaucracy. In an environment obviously streamlined with three weeks of experience, everything appeared to be working efficiently, with a group of young men wearing matching yellow T-shirts guiding senior visitors in a brisk manner. I saw a much larger numbers of citizens who had come for inoculation, the entire site unquestionably livelier.
As I did on my first visit, I arrived at the center a half hour early. The last time I was led upstairs immediately, but this time I was asked to wait in the ground-floor lobby, where there were many chairs neatly lined up. Obviously, they have considerably increased the number of those they can accommodate for hourly or daily inoculation. From where I sat, I looked around to see all kinds of people coming to receive their inoculation, some trotting to the center barely in time for their appointment and others coming more than an hour early.
Just then a skinny senior man walked by using a cane, accompanied by a stout younger man who I assumed was his son. “Walk properly!” The young man, who must have weighed three times more than his father, scolded his father, who was walking with unsteady steps with the aid of a cane. One of the male staffers wearing a yellow T-shirt immediately walked up to the old man, and politely guided him to a chair in the waiting room.
“Quite Spartan, isn’t it?”
A little later, an elderly woman got out of a taxi in front of the lobby. Lame in her right leg, she would have trouble walking up the stairs. Another male attendant in a yellow T-shirt promptly approached her, asking the same questions he would ask others who come in for inoculation.
“What time is your appointment, ma’am?”
The woman shook her head, pointing to her ear and then putting her hand on her lips. She apparently had difficulty talking as well. The attendant checked the necessary documents she showed, saying, “You are going to receive your shot on the second floor. Shall we proceed?”
Walking in step with her while keeping a watchful eye on her feeble manner of walking, the young man accompanied her to the elevator, into which they slowly disappeared. Watching them from behind, I prayed that he would chaperon her throughout the day.
My appointment time was coming close. Reminded to “keep safe social distancing and use the elevator, three to four people at a time,” I got off on the second floor and walked into the inoculation venue, where I was seated once again to wait for my turn. Just as I started to double-check the required documents, such as the numbered ticket and the identity card, I saw the previous father seated a couple of chairs ahead of me.
It was time for him to get his shot. He tried to rise from his seat but could not, falling weakly back into his chair. Spontaneously, several people around him stood up to offer him a helping hand in unison. Their speedy readiness to protect the old man truly touched my heart.
Just then, I heard his son reprimand him sharply: “Stand up straight. You know you can stand on your own feet!” Somehow or other, his words spurred his poor old father to stand upright on his own and to walk up to where the doctor and the nurse were waiting.
I was guided into the inoculation booth shortly after him but did not experience the same “time loss” I found irritating the first time around. The time loss I experienced then was odd, to say the least: they had we senior citizens sit about six feet from the three doctor-nurse teams, with the two groups silently looking back and forth at each other seemingly interminably. The vaccines were undoubtedly ready, and so were the doctors and nurses. But nothing happened, apparently because they were not supposed to administer inoculations even a minute before the designated time.
The inoculation progressed smoothly. Like the last time, doctors, nurses, and other staff were gentle and polite, never lacking respect or thoughtfulness toward the senior citizens. Spending the 15 minutes allotted for “observation” following inoculation in the waiting corner, I saw the old man leaving the venue apparently safe from any immediate side effects.
He was walking amazingly fast. He had to, as his muscular son was pushing his back hard. The scene was so incredible I and the woman sitting next to me spontaneously looked at each other, remarking:
“Too bad he has to be made to walk so fast!” “Yes, isn’t the son’s way quite Spartan?” We chuckled but I couldn’t help thinking more about this frail old man.
Governor of Tokyo Virtually Invisible
I wondered what kind of life he was living with his burly son, who may perhaps be strict because he believes it is for his father’s good. There may hardly be a moment when his son is not putting him through his paces. Can he possibly let grass grow under his feet, so to speak? But still, how can a conversation between a father and a son be so terse? Of course the son must have a good heart to keep his aging father company on a visit to the inoculation center. While idling my time away thinking about this duo, I suddenly heard the excited voice of a man behind me:
“Thank you all for the grand time I had here today!”
I turned around to find a stout senior man thanking the boys in yellow T-shirts. He was smiling, and so were the boys. The room was full of smiles. The man, looking completely satisfied with having obviously been treated very gently and politely by the staff, expressed his joy and thanks profusely, which in turn made the staff in yellow T-shirts happy. I was very proud of our young men who are committed to being so gentle and polite. It was a moment that made me warm deep in my heart.
Thanks largely to the strong resolve on the part of Suga, the nationwide vaccination campaign has finally been progressing relatively smoothly since April, with over 20 million doses having been administered as of June 10. Here and there across the nation an increasing number of local communities are coming up with improved plans to implement their own vaccination drives. If administering 1 million doses per day is possible, 10 million Japanese would be vaccinated in ten days. A simple calculation would be misleading, as that number would include those who would have received their second shots, but experts believe the spread of infections would be discernibly abated if 30% of our population is fully vaccinated.
According to a survey by the nationally-circulated Yomiuri Shimbun, infections among healthcare workers who had received priority vaccination have been reduced by 90%. Experts believe this is the direct effect of full-scale vaccination for medical workers begun in March.
We are almost there. I hope that vaccines will become available to our younger generation as soon as possible and that all of the people will be able to cooperate to hold a safe and secure Olympics. That said, I am puzzled by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike staying in the background despite being the head of the host city, while Suga has come to the forefront, making desperate efforts to make the Olympics a success in the midst of the coronavirus crisis. I wonder what Koike is up to.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 955 in the June 24, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)