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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With just 65 days until the Olympics, Japan's COVID-19 infection and vaccination rates are providing legitimate cause for concern.

Why it matters: The country's seven-day average of new cases surpassed 6,000 for five straight days last week, just barely trailing its worst surge to date, back in January.

  • Vaccines: Japan's vaccination rate pales in comparison to similarly developed countries, with just 1.7% of the population fully vaccinated. (U.S., 38%; U.K., 31%; Spain, 16%).

The state of play: The reasons for the slow vaccine rollout largely stem from a cultural barrier that has slowed the process from the start, as well as a reliance on foreign supply due to their feeble vaccine sector.

  • Despite securing ample supply, a deep-seated skepticism of foreign vaccines pushed Japan to pursue additional testing on top of Pfizer's multinational test whose results were accepted by dozens of countries.
  • Once they finally began vaccinating the population on that delayed timeline, different challenges arose. Namely, there aren't nearly enough people approved to administer the shots.
  • "Only doctors and nurses are allowed to give them in Japan's conservative medical culture," writes AP's Mari Yamaguchi. "Getting shots from pharmacists at drug stores as in the U.S. or from volunteers with no medical background other than brief training as in Britain remain unthinkable in Japan."

What they're saying: A prominent group of ~6,000 Japanese doctors is calling for the Olympics to be canceled because "the medical institutions ... have their hands full and have almost no spare capacity," per Reuters.

  • Meanwhile, 40 towns that had registered to host athletes have abandoned those plans, and 59.7% of people in Japan think the Olympics should be canceled, per a recent Kyodo News poll.
  • "The risk is too big," Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani told CNN. "It's not time to celebrate yet."
  • "Holding the Olympics should be welcomed by everyone, but that is not possible under the current situation," said Japanese lawyer Kenji Utsunomiya, whose "Stop Tokyo Olympics" petition has over 350,000 signatures.

The big picture: The coronavirus has evolved over time, with new and more contagious variants posing a major challenge to a world that's already weary from a year unlike any other.

  • The U.S. has trended in the right direction, going from COVID-19's favorite breeding ground to a world leader in vaccinations.
  • Japan has gone in the opposite direction, keeping cases low for months before stumbling on the vaccine front. And it could cost them — and thousands of athletes — their Olympic dream.

Go deeper: Japanese doctors urge Olympics to be canceled as COVID surges

Go deeper

May 18, 2021 - Sports

Japanese doctors urge Olympics to be canceled as COVID surges

Protesters in Tokyo call for the Olympic Games to be canceled, May 17. Photo: Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association — a group of about 6,000 doctors — has called for the 2021 Olympic Games to be canceled due to an upsurge of COVID-19 cases in Japan.

Why it matters: Rising case numbers in Japan are a reminder that the pandemic is not over even as cases, hospitalizations and deaths fall in the United States.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
May 18, 2021 - World

Japan and Europe's economic contractions weigh on global recovery

Japan's economy shrank by 5.1% in the first quarter, government data showed, putting the world's third-largest economy again at risk of falling into recession.

Where it stands: With Japan's economy shrinking by more than expected in Q1 and at risk for another contraction in Q2, the global recovery theme looks to be at risk.

Pacific Northwest soon to be ground zero for record-shattering heat

Computer model projection showing the unusually strong heat dome over the Pacific Northwest on Sunday. (PivotalWeather).

A heat wave is bringing unprecedented high temperatures to the Pacific Northwest — a region of the country typically cooled by the ocean, rather than central air conditioning. The heat will begin Friday and last into early next week.

Why it matters: The heat wave will shatter monthly and all-time temperature records in the Pacific Northwest. Some of the records could break the old milestones by several degrees.