Australia will fast-track vaccinations for athletes and support staff attending the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, the government said on Tuesday.
The contingent of about 2,000 will be eligible to be vaccinated in the country’s second-highest priority group, at the same time as people age 70 and older, emergency workers and people with existing medical conditions and disabilities.
Amid the country’s sluggish vaccine rollout, the announcement prompted some backlash. Critics took issue with athletes receiving preferential treatment when some high-priority workers and other vulnerable people are still waiting for vaccines.
To date, Australia has vaccinated only about 7 percent of its population, largely because of problems with supply and poor coordination between state and federal governments and clinics. Earlier this month, the rollout was hobbled further when the government stopped recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine, the only vaccine that the country is manufacturing domestically, for people under 50. Two weeks ago, the government dropped its initial goal to vaccinate the entire population by the end of the year.
The Australian minister for sports, Richard Colbeck, said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon, “our athletes deserve the opportunity to compete.” He added that vulnerable Australians remained an “absolute priority” for the vaccine rollout.
The chief executive of the Australian Olympic Committee, Matt Carroll, responded in a statement. “There will be hundreds of very grateful athletes, coaches and their families relieved to know that their hard work over five years has been worth it,” he said. “This added layer of assurance is what they were seeking.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Carroll told reporters that the committee had engaged a private contractor to conduct the vaccinations, meaning, “there’s no load on the public system whatsoever.”
The rollout to the athletes and support staff is expected to begin next week, he added, noting that they would receive either the Pfizer vaccine, for athletes under 50, or the AstraZeneca vaccine.
In other updates from around the world:
In the coming weeks, officials in Britain will announce a plan to allow people to travel to select countries without having to quarantine upon returning. The plan involves the use of a National Health Service app to verify that travelers have received a Covid-19 vaccination or recently tested negative, Grant Shapps, the country’s transport secretary, told Sky News. Civil society groups have raised concerns about vaccination passports, saying that they could invade privacy or disadvantage certain marginalized communities.
Andalusia, a region in southern Spain, said it would reopen travel across its eight provinces starting midnight on Wednesday, part of a national plan to ease restrictions. The vaccine rollout in Spain has accelerated in recent weeks, with 23 percent of the population having had at least one shot. The medical authorities in Seville, the capital of Andalusia, on Wednesday began offering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
An aunt of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India died after contracting the coronavirus in the western Indian state of Gujarat. Narmadaben Modi, 80, was hospitalized after her condition deteriorated 10 days ago and she was taken to hospital, Prahlad Modi, Mr. Modi’s younger brother, told reporters. Gujarat is one of the Indian states where crematories are running overnight to handle the volume of dead bodies. Officials there are widely believed to be undercounting the actual number of deaths.