New Zealand starts vaccinating Tokyo-bound athletes


FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labelled with a "Coronavirus COVID-19 Vaccine" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration taken October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - New Zealand has started administering COVID-19 vaccinations to athletes ahead of their departure for the Tokyo Games, the country's Olympics chief said on Wednesday.

"We’re really satisfied the government was able to put us in that category of national significance, so that’s now underway and athletes have been worked through according to when they might be departing,” New Zealand Olympic Committee Chief Executive Kereyn Smith told reporters in Auckland.

“Some are still qualifying and some still have events and activities to prepare, so over the next few months we will see that gradually rolling out.”

More than 200 athletes are expected to represent New Zealand at the July 23-Aug. 8 Games.

The New Zealand government said last month it would allow athletes to jump the queue in the country's vaccine roll-out to allow them to participate in events of "national significance".

New Zealand has been one of the most successful countries at containing the virus and started the second round of its vaccine roll-out for border and quarantine workers last month.

Australia is also hoping to have all of their athletes vaccinated in time for the Games, though the national roll-out has been hit by major roadblocks with the restriction of AstraZeneca vaccinations.

Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) Chief Executive Matt Carroll said the AOC was "pretty confident" all Australian athletes would be vaccinated before Tokyo.

"We're talking about a cohort of athletes and officials of around about 1,400 people so it's not a huge number but it's very important," Carroll told reporters in Sydney.

Wednesday marks 100 days until the opening ceremony in Tokyo, and a number of New Zealand athletes assembled in Central Auckland for a photo shoot with a bus-sized skateboard.

The New Zealand team will tour the country with the "super-sized" skateboard to drum up interest in the Games, where skateboarding will make its Olympic debut.

"Today's Olympic Games have more extreme, more urban and more youth focused events and the board travelling around New Zealand represents this," said Smith.

"This year, we really need the support of all New Zealanders and that’s why this skateboard will be travelling the country as we ask Kiwis to get onboard."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Cordelia Hsu in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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