Australia aiming to vaccinate athletes before Tokyo Games


FILE PHOTO: The Olympic rings are illuminated in front of the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia aims to vaccinate its Olympians against COVID-19 before they head to the Tokyo Games, federal sport minister Richard Colbeck has said.

Advice from the body coordinating the vaccination rollout plan suggested that athletes would likely be inoculated before the July 23-Aug. 8 Games, Colbeck said in comments published by the Canberra Times on Thursday.

"If our plans work OK it may very well be conceivable that Olympic athletes, for example, we'll get to them before they head off to the Games anyway," he was quoted as saying.

Colbeck later issued a statement saying that "older Australians, frontline workers and those with underlying medical conditions" would be prioritised and that "most athletes" would be vaccinated in a later phase of the rollout.

A number of national Olympic committees are planning to vaccinate their athletes before the Games.

Israel's Olympic Committee said it had already vaccinated half its Olympic delegation and would complete the process by the end of May.

South Korea's Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said, "Of course the athletes should be given the vaccine if they are going to participate," when asked in an interview with Reuters on Thursday.

South Korea has said it will decide whether to vaccinate the 157 athletes signed up so far when Japan comes to a formal decision to go ahead with the Games.

The International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday the governing body was not in favour of athletes "jumping the queue" for COVID-19 vaccines.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said it hoped athletes could be vaccinated but said vulnerable people and health workers must come first.

"We are recommending and encouraging our athletes to get vaccinated but support the IOC position that it’s not mandatory," an AOC spokesman said.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom and Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Toby Davis,Edwina Gibbs, Peter Rutherford)

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