Thursday, December 2News That Matters

Are the Tokyo Olympics Safe? Health Experts Urge a Rethinking

Among other things, they criticized the playbooks’ focus on countermeasures like disinfecting surfaces and temperature checks, which they called ineffective; the lack of specialized guidelines for different competition venues, common spaces and sports; the use of contact-tracing and health-reporting apps, which they called inferior to wearable trackers; and the possibility that athletes were at a higher risk of infection by sharing rooms in the athletes’ village.

The authors also laid out in stark terms how little the landscape had improved in the past year.

“When the IOC postponed the Tokyo Olympics in March 2020, Japan had 865 active cases of Covid-19 against a global backdrop of 385,000 active cases,” the article said, noting that many people had assumed the pandemic would be under control by 2021. “Fourteen months later, Japan is in a state of emergency, with 70,000 active cases. Globally, there are 19 million active cases.”

Such troubling numbers were behind the State Department’s decision on Monday to warn Americans not to travel to Japan. (The recommendation was mostly symbolic; nonresident foreigners have largely been banned from entering Japan since the middle of last year.)

Still, the alarming advisory — Level 4 is the highest possible warning — did not immediately change the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee’s outlook on attending the Games.

“We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff by both the USOPC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer,” a spokesman for the U.S.O.P.C. said in a statement.

Aware of the perception that Olympic officials and local organizers are pressing ahead with the Games despite valid health concerns, officials continue to emphasize initiatives they say will make them safer. While vaccines are still not a prerequisite for participating in the Games, for example, Thomas Bach, the president of the I.O.C., said last week that he expected 80 percent of the residents of the athletes’ village would be vaccinated before they arrive in Japan. (Sparrow challenged the I.O.C. to reveal the data supporting that figure. “There’s no way he can identify a source for that,” she said. “It’s wishful thinking.”)

At the same time, critics continue their calls for the Games to be canceled. They added to their ranks this month the Tokyo Medical Practitioners’ Association, an association of 6,000 professionals in Japan’s capital, which wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the event’s organizers calling for the Games to be scrapped in order to relieve pressure on the nation’s health system.