The Tokyo Games Organization and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) insist on the promise of a safe Olympic event (July 23-Aug 8) despite the pandemic, but Japanese health experts are skeptical of this possibility.
“Even without the coronavirus pandemic, the Olympics, as a mass group, favors all kinds of infectious diseases,” Atsu Hamadeh, a specialist at Tokyo Medical University, told AFP.
The Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee has begun laying out new rules for participants. There will be a medical examination before arriving in Japan, regular checks once in the country, restrictions and follow-up on contacts, as well as restrictions on residency in the Olympic Village.
Olympic officials confirm the success of other sporting events during the pandemic, but health experts answer that the games have a bigger dimension, with more than 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries in Tokyo.
“There can be no greater risk,” Michael Head, a researcher in global health at the University of Southampton (UK), said in a question to AFP.
Although athletes have been vaccinated before, “there could be some variants that show specific resistance to the vaccine,” according to expert estimates.
“Bringing people together from many different countries will only accelerate the likelihood that a new variable will emerge,” Head adds.
“Everything that can be done to reduce the risk is being done,” says Hassan Valley, professor of public health at La Trobe University in Australia. “But you can’t completely reduce the risk,” he adds.
Hassan Valli summed up: “If you look at things from a public health standpoint, hosting the Games is all you don’t want to see right now.”
Organizing the Games is waiting for Spring to make some tough decisions, including the possibility of restricting or preventing spectators’ access to the stadiums.
Atsu Hamada thinks it is “unreasonable to allow viewers from all over the world to enter.”
Head believed that the number of spectators should be as limited as possible. “This won’t eliminate the risks, but it will reduce them,” he says.
The start of vaccination has raised hopes in the Games, although some countries have announced that they do not plan to vaccinate their athletes before the summer, while the International Olympic Committee and Japan believe that vaccination is a sine qua non for participation in the event.
Infections are inevitable
Koji Wada, a Japanese public health expert, thinks it is unlikely that all athletes and all Japanese people will be vaccinated before the Olympic event opens on July 23.
“Vaccines are a tool to protect everyone, not others,” said this professor at Tokyo International University of Health, who is providing advice to the Japanese government on managing the epidemic.
Wada recommends that the organization evaluate whether certain sports involve very close physical contact, such as judo, although amputating any of its gaming disciplines seems unlikely.
The head is more straight. From a health standpoint, staging the games “does not make any sense at the moment.”
Other experts open up the actions that are taken so games can be played.
Atsu Hamada can imagine the games “with frequent inspections, athletes and staff limiting their movements and in bubbles, with everyone watching the event on TV.”
Hassan Valli thinks the Games can be staged but the organization must assume there will be casualties.
“It is impossible to hold the games without a scandal related to the virus,” he adds. “How to respond will be the biggest challenge.”
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