As Tokyo Games open, can Olympic flame burn away the funk?

TOKYO (AP) — Disputed, locked down and running a year late, the Tokyo Games begin at last on Friday night, a multinational showcase of the finest athletes of a world fragmented by disease — and an event steeped in the political and medical baggage of a relentless pandemic whose presence haunts every Olympic corner.

As the first pandemic Games in a century convene largely without spectators and opposed by much of the host nation, the disbelief and anger of those kept outside the near-deserted national stadium threaten to drown out the usual carefully packaged glitz and soaring rhetoric about sports and peace that are the hallmarks of the opening ceremony.

"'The festival of peace' is now starting in an unimaginably disastrous state," the Asahi newspaper said in an editorial, citing "confusion, distrust and unease."

Hand in hand with this feeling of calamity is a fundamental question about these Games as Japan, and large parts of the world, reel from the continuing gut punch of a pandemic that is stretching well into its second year, with cases in Tokyo approaching record highs this week: Will it be enough? 

"It," in this case, is the product that's being packaged and sold, the commodity that has saved past Olympics when they've become mired in problems: the deep, intrinsic human attachment to the spectacle of sporting competition at the highest possible level. 

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Olympic Games, Tokyo-style: The pandemic era, in miniature

TOKYO (AP) — Ghostly airports, devoid of bustle. Cavernous arenas where no crowds will roar. Stringent rules that are spottily enforced — and spottily ignored. Complaints over restrictions, including comparisons to Nazi Germany. Worries about outsiders causing superspreader events. And a general unease that life as we know it is upside down.

The coronavirus pandemic that interrupted the world and is digging in its heels once again in Asia? Or the seriously peculiar Olympic Games that are about to happen in its midst? Both, actually. 

The Olympics are often billed, enthusiastically and with no small amount of self-interest, as a slice of the globalized 21st-century world in miniature – humanity's very best on display. But for these weeks in Tokyo, the entire affair instead feels more like an industrial-strength clip reel of humanity's last 18 months.

Like so many Olympics, the Games reflect the world in which they are taking place. This time, it's a microcosm of the pandemic with all its challenges and fears, all of its irritations and surreal landscapes, jammed into a single metropolitan area during a brief moment in history eyed warily by a COVID-wearied civilization. 

"The Olympic movement is living in the middle of society, and we are not living in a tranquil world," said Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee. "We are living in a very fragile world, and therefore we have to react to this." 

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Canada vs Zimbabwe: Two divergent paths of COVID vaccination

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — When mother-of-three Amanda Wood heard that hundreds of coronavirus shots were available for teens, only one thing prevented her from racing to the vaccination site at a Toronto high school — her 13-year-old daughter's fear of needles. 

Wood told Lola: If you get the vaccine you'll be able to see your friends again. You'll be able to play sports. And enticed by the promise of resuming a normal, teen life, Lola agreed.

In Zimbabwe, more than 8,000 miles (13,000 kilometers) and a world away from Canada, immunity is harder to obtain.

On a recent day, Andrew Ngwenya sat outside his home in a working-class township in Harare, the capital, pondering how he could save himself and his family from COVID-19.

Ngwenya and his wife De-egma had gone to a hospital that sometimes had spare doses. Hours later, fewer than 30 people had been inoculated. The Ngwenyas, parents of four children, were sent home, still desperate for immunization. 

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Study: Chinese COVID shot may offer elderly poor protection

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A new study suggests that a Sinopharm vaccine offers poor protection from COVID-19 among the elderly, raising questions for dozens of countries that have given the Chinese company's shots to their most vulnerable populations.

A survey of blood samples taken from 450 people in Hungary at least two weeks after their second Sinopharm dose found that 90 percent under 50 years old developed protective antibodies. But the percentage declined with age, and 50 percent of those over 80 had none.

The study by two Hungarian researchers was posted online this week but not yet reviewed by other scientists. Three outside experts said they had no problems with the methodology of the study of the vaccine developed by Sinopharm's Beijing Institute of Biological Products.

"This is very, very worrying that these people, who are high-risk, have a poor antibody response," said Jin Dong-yan, a Hong Kong University virologist who was not affiliated with the study.

Antibody levels are not a direct measure of how protected a person is from COVID-19, but there is growing evidence that they are a good proxy. One expert cautioned that the choice of test kits could have limited the accuracy of the measurements. 

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Virus's impact: More relaxing and thinking, less socializing

SAN DIEGO (AP) — The eruption of COVID-19 last year caused the proportion of people working from home in the U.S. to nearly double, with the shift most pronounced among college graduates and workers in such fields as finance and professional services.

The share of employed people working from home shot up from just 22 percent in 2019 to 42 percent in 2020, the Labor Department said Thursday. 

That was among the striking findings of an annual government survey that documents the far-reaching impact the viral pandemic has had on Americans' everyday lives since it struck in March of last year. The American Time Use Survey details how people spent their time in 2020, from working to relaxing to sleeping. The survey participants, all of whom are ages 15 or over, are interviewed by phone about everything they did in a 24-hour period leading up to the interview. (For 2020, the report covered only May through December, after the virus caused the suspension of data collection earlier in the year.)

Because of the pandemic and the widespread social distancing it required, people on average spent more time last year sleeping, watching TV, playing games, using a computer and relaxing and thinking — and less time socializing and communicating in person — than in 2019. Adults also spent more hours, on average, caring for children in their household.

The survey also lends support to concerns that the pandemic worsened isolation for millions of Americans. With people working from home or attending school online, the time they spent alone increased. Among Americans ages 15 and over, time spent alone each day increased by an average of an hour. For those ages 15 to 19, it rose 1.7 hours per day.

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To reach a peace deal, Taliban say Afghan president must go

ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban say they don't want to monopolize power, but they insist there won't be peace in Afghanistan until there is a new negotiated government in Kabul and President Ashraf Ghani is removed.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, who is also a member of the group's negotiating team, laid out the insurgents' stance on what should come next in a country on the precipice.

The Taliban have swiftly captured territory in recent weeks, seized strategic border crossings and are threatening a number of provincial capitals, as the last U.S. and NATO soldiers leave Afghanistan. This week, the top U.S. military officer, Gen. Mark Milley, told a Pentagon press conference that the Taliban have "strategic momentum," and he did not rule out a complete Taliban takeover. But he said it is not inevitable. "I don't think the end game is yet written," he said.

Memories of the Taliban's last time in power some 20 years ago, when they enforced a harsh brand of Islam that denied girls an education and barred women from work, have stoked fears of their return among many. Afghans who can afford it are applying by the thousands for visas to leave Afghanistan, fearing a violent descent into chaos. The U.S.-NATO withdrawal is more than 95 percent complete and due to be finished by Aug. 31.

Shaheen said the Taliban will lay down their weapons when a negotiated government acceptable to all sides in the conflict is installed in Kabul and Ghani's government is gone.

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Haitian president's hometown holds funeral amid violence

CAP-HAITIEN, Haiti (AP) — The hometown of slain Haitian President Jovenel Moïse prepared to receive his body on Friday for a private funeral amid heavy security following violent protests and fears of political volatility in the Caribbean nation. 

White T-shirts and caps emblazoned with his picture were distributed to supporters the day before what is expected to be the final ceremony to honor Moïse, who was shot several times on July 7 during an attack at his private home that seriously injured his wife, Martine.

"This is something that will be engraved in our memory," said Pedro Guilloume, a Cap-Haitien resident who hoped to attend the funeral. "Let all Haitians channel solidarity."

The funeral comes days after a new prime minister supported by key international diplomats was installed in Haiti — a move that appeared aimed at averting a leadership struggle following Moïse's assassination.

Ariel Henry, who was designated prime minister by Moïse before he was slain but never sworn in replaced interim prime minister Claude Joseph, and has promised to form a provisional consensus government until elections are held.

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Western wildfires: Crews make progress on huge Oregon blaze

BLY, Ore. (AP) — The nation's largest wildfire raged through southern Oregon on Friday but crews were scaling back some night operations as hard work and weaker winds helped reduce the spread of flames even as wildfires continued to threaten homes in neighboring California.

The Bootleg Fire, which has destroyed an area half the size of Rhode Island, was 40 percent surrounded after burning some 70 homes, mainly cabins, fire officials said.

At least 2,000 homes were ordered evacuated at some point during the fire and an additional 5,000 were threatened.

The upper eastern edge of the blaze continued to move toward Summer Lake, jumping fire lines on Thursday and prompting a local evacuation order for some portions of Lake County to be raised to "go now!," fire officials said.

Winds up to 10 miles per hour could drive the flames through timber but not at the pace seen last week, when the wind-driven blaze grew exponentially, fire information officer Angela Goldman said.

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Looking at Tokyo Olympics through the lens of the 1964 Games

TOKYO (AP) — Just 19 years after devastating defeat in World War II, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics showcased the reemergence of an innovative country that was showing off bullet trains, miniature transistor radios, and a restored reputation.

Japan's resiliency is on display again, attempting to stage the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics in the midst of a once-in-a century pandemic. The challenge is different, and this time there is widespread public opposition that has divided the country over the health hazards with nagging questions about who benefits from staging the Games.

Roy Tomizawa, who documented the '64 Olympics in a recent book, described those distant Games 57 years ago as the "Inclusion Games" in an email to The Associated Press.

He called the attempt this time the "Exclusion Games." But he offered some hope.

"Whether you agree or disagree with the Japanese government, the Games are going ahead in the face of significant risk," Tomizawa said. But he said these Games might also be turned into "Inclusion Games."

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The Latest: 6 Polish Olympic swimmers sent home after error

The Latest on the Tokyo Olympics, which are taking place under heavy restrictions after a year's delay because of the coronavirus pandemic:

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Six Polish swimmers have returned home before the Olympics even started, their dreams scuttled by the country mistakenly sending too many athletes to Tokyo.

Only 17 swimmers from Poland qualified for the Tokyo Games. The country's swimming federation put 23 athletes on the plane to Japan, sparking outrage among those who were denied a chance to compete.

Two-time Olympian Alicja Tchorz was among those sent home. She griped on social media about all the sacrifices she had made to earn another trip to the Summer Games, only for it to result "in a total flop."

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