TOYKO – Jill Biden embarked on her first solo international trip as first lady, leading a US delegation to the Tokyo Olympics, where the coronavirus is on the rise and COVID-19 infections have peaked in six months.
She arrived in Tokyo on Thursday and her schedule includes a dinner with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife, Mariko Suga, at Akasaka Palace. She is due to return to the palace on Friday and be hosted by Mariko Suga.
The first lady has a solid program for around 48 hours on the ground in the Japanese capital.
She will organize a virtual meeting with members of Team USA before meeting Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace. She attends the Games opening ceremony in the evening and is expected to lead a small two-person delegation that also includes Raymond Greene, who oversees affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in the absence of an ambassador. .
On Saturday, the first lady will dedicate a room in the residence of the head of mission to former US Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and his wife, Irene Hirano Inouye. The senator died in 2012, and his wife passed away last year.
She will host a U.S.-Mexico Softball Watch Party at the U.S. Embassy for staff and their families, and cheer on U.S. athletes participating in several events before leaving Tokyo.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden and the First Lady both believe it is important that the Olympic Games delegation be led “at the highest level” and that Jill Biden was looking forward to the trip to help support American athletes. , who will compete under some of the strongest conditions for an Olympic Games.
En route to Tokyo, the first lady stopped in Alaska, where she praised efforts to vaccinate residents of the remote and rugged state, but noted that the job was not finished. Alaska, like other parts of the country, is seeing the number of cases rise and health officials have expressed concern about the flattening of vaccination rates.
“While we celebrate the progress that has been made, we know that this latest push is truly the most difficult of all,” said Jill Biden during a visit to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage. Getting more people vaccinated will mean doing the case “person by person”, she said.
The first lady was joined by the chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, and the leader of the health consortium, Valerie Davidson. The Tribal Health System has been credited with helping Alaska get off to a good start with its vaccine rollout, with tribal health organizations sharing the vaccines with the wider community and being able to decide on the best. way of distributing their allowances.
Davidson said that with the cooperation of the tribal health system and state and federal governments, “we were able to ensure that some of our last language carriers and our last culture carriers could be among the first people vaccinated, whatever their age “.
In a state where many communities are not connected to a main road network, the vaccine has been delivered in some cases by means such as small planes, boats and sled dogs. The vaccine was even transported to a whaler in 2.4-meter (8-foot) seas, Jill Biden was told.
About 52% of Alaskan residents aged 12 or older are fully immunized, according to the state’s health department.
Zink, who has been one of the public faces of Alaska’s response to COVID-19, praised Jill Biden’s visit. “We’re excited when Alaska is actually on a map. We are even more excited when people come to visit our great and beautiful and absolutely wonderful state, ”she said.
Davidson, who is Yup’ik, gave Biden the name Taurluq, which Jill Biden said was Davidson’s grandmother’s name. “I hope I can try to live up to the woman that your grandmother was,” Jill Biden said.
Base officials, staff and guests at Alaska Fisher House, where military and veteran families can stay for free when a loved one is hospitalized, greeted the first lady on Wednesday at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
Theresa Nedrow, director of the Alaska Fisher House, called the chance to meet Jill Biden “remarkable.”
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.
On her way back from Tokyo, Jill Biden is scheduled to visit a vaccination clinic in Honolulu before returning to Washington.
COVID-19 infections in Tokyo peaked in six months on Wednesday with 1,832 new cases recorded just two days before the Games open.
The host city of the Olympics is now under its fourth state of emergency, which runs until August 22, covering the duration of the Olympics which will open on Friday and end on August 8. Fans are banned from all sites in the Tokyo area, with a limited audience. on a few peripheral sites.
Suga’s government has been criticized for what some say is prioritizing Olympic sport over public health, and there has been little fanfare leading up to the Games, which were postponed from last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Imperial Palace said last month that Naruhito was “extremely worried” that the Games could speed up the spread of the coronavirus.
Jill Biden is fully vaccinated. Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the US delegation would follow “very strict” health and safety protocols during the trip, including limiting their engagement with the public and keeping a footprint as small as possible.
President Joe Biden does not attend the Games.
Superville reported from Washington. Associated Press editor Becky Bohrer contributed to this report from Juneau, Alaska.