Medical experts voice concerns over Olympics in Tokyo
Medical experts have expressed concerns that the Tokyo Olympic Games, rescheduled for July and August 2021, could pose a grave health risk to the Japanese public, predicting that few people will have coronavirus antibodies and that vaccines will not be widely available.
The International Olympic Committee and Japanese government announced in March that the Olympics would be delayed by 12 months because of Covid-19, and IOC president Thomas Bach has since said that there could be no further postponement, with a full cancellation the only option if the pandemic is not under control.
Tokyo yesterday confirmed 224 new infections, a record high for a single day, albeit Japan has been less affected than other major countries.
In interviews conducted by Reuters with a dozen infectious diseases experts, a common theme emerged: the Olympics would increase the risk of an outbreak.
Daiichi Morii, a doctor at Osaka University Hospital’s infection control team, said: “Infection will flare up if we push ahead with the Olympics and hold them. There is no doubt about it. The virus is barely under control as we are putting a halt on the inflow of people from overseas. With events like the Olympics, the virus will come in for sure and the number of infections will shoot up inevitably.”
That is largely down to Japan’s success in containing the virus: a recent government survey showed only 0.1 per cent of Tokyo residents have coronavirus antibodies, compared with, for example, 14 per cent in the state of New York in April.
Katsunori Yanagihara, professor in Nagasaki University’s school of tropical medicine and global health, explained: "Very few are infected in Japan and pretty much everyone is susceptible.”
While there are more than 100 potential vaccines in development, experts fear one will likely be available in enough quantity in time for the Olympics.
In a bid to address health concerns, Yoshiro Mori, head of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee, on Monday told the capital’s newly re-elected governor, Yuriko Koike, that he planned to set up a task force with the central and metropolitan governments by September.
In the meeting, they discussed infection screening for foreign visitors and limiting crowd sizes.