MELBOURNE (Reuters) – New Zealand has started giving COVID-19 vaccinations to athletes ahead of their departure for the Tokyo Olympics, the country’s Olympics chief said Wednesday.
“We are absolutely satisfied the government can place us in that category of national significance, so it is now under way and athletes are being trained according to when they might depart,” New Zealand Olympic Committee Chief Executive Kereyn Smith told reporters in Auckland.
“Some still qualify and some still have events and activities to prepare, so over the next few months we’ll see it roll out in stages.”
More than 200 athletes are expected to represent New Zealand on 23 July-August. 8 Games.
The New Zealand government said last month it would allow athletes to jump the queues for the country’s vaccine launches to allow them to participate in events of “national importance”.
New Zealand has been one of the countries most successful at containing the virus and started the second round of launching its vaccine to border and quarantine workers last month.
Australia also hopes that all their athletes are vaccinated in time for the Olympics, even though the national launch was hit by major obstacles with AstraZeneca’s vaccination restrictions.
Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) chief executive Matt Carroll said the AOC was “pretty sure” all Australian athletes would be vaccinated before Tokyo.
“We are talking about a group of athletes and officials of about 1,400 people so it is not a big number but it is very important,” Carroll told reporters in Sydney.
Wednesday marked 100 days until the opening ceremony in Tokyo, and scores of New Zealand athletes gathered in Central Auckland for a photo shoot on a skateboard the size of a bus.
The New Zealand team will tour the country on “super-sized” skateboards to generate interest in the Olympics, where skateboarding will make its Olympic debut.
“Today’s Olympic Games have a more extreme, more urban, youth-focused event and New Zealand’s traveling council represents this,” said Smith.
“This year, we desperately need the support of all New Zealanders and that’s why these skateboards are going around the country when we ask the Kiwis to come on.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Cordelia Hsu in Sydney; Edited by Peter Rutherford