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With one year to go, experts warn of high-risk Tokyo Olympics

21 Comments
By Kiyoshi Takenaka

With just over a year to go until the Tokyo Olympics, medical experts say the event 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.

Olympic organizers and the Japanese and Tokyo metropolitan governments are scrambling for steps to prevent the pandemic from derailing the event. But they say concrete plans are unlikely to shape up before the end of this year.

The global death toll from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, reached half a million late last month, and cases topped 10 million.

Although Tokyo on Thursday confirmed 224 new infections, a record high for a single day, Japan has largely avoided the disastrous effects seen in other countries.

That has scientists and medical experts concerned about how things might look next summer, a year after the Tokyo Games were postponed.

In interviews with a dozen infectious diseases experts, a common theme emerged: the Olympics would increase the risk of an outbreak.

"Infection will flare up if we push ahead with the Olympics and hold them. There is no doubt about it," said Daiichi Morii, a doctor at Osaka University Hospital's infection control team.

"The virus is barely under control as we are putting a halt on the inflow of people from overseas," Morii added. "With events like the Olympics, the virus will come in for sure and the number of infections will shoot up inevitably."

Japan's success in containing the virus is part of the reason. A recent government survey showed only 0.1% of Tokyo residents have coronavirus antibodies. That is much lower than 14% in the state of New York in April, and 7% in Stockholm.

"Very few are infected in Japan but pretty much everyone is susceptible," said Katsunori Yanagihara, professor in Nagasaki University's school of tropical medicine and global health.

Antibodies help fight off infections, and scientists say having antibodies for the coronavirus might provide protection against re-infection.

There are more than 100 potential vaccines in development, but experts say none will likely be available in enough quantity in time for the Olympics, which involves about 200 countries.

"Even if a vaccine has been developed by then, it's near impossible for it to go around the world," said Atsuo Hamada, a professor at Tokyo Medical University Hospital.

A Tokyo voter survey by the Asahi Shimbun daily late last month showed that 59 percent of those polled believe the Olympics should be cancelled or postponed again, underscoring the public's nagging worries about the pandemic.

In a bid to address such concerns, Yoshiro Mori, head of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, on Monday told the capital's 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, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Japan has had only about 20,000 cases and 980 deaths. Researchers have cited various factors for those low numbers, from the nation's robust healthcare system to infrequent hugging and handshaking. But they say there is no clear single reason for the country's success.

Norio Sugaya, a member of the World Health Organization's influenza panel, said people in Japan should not feel secure just because of the relatively small scale of infections and deaths there so far.

"Talks about how Japan has ridden out the first wave successfully. Talks about 'Japan miracle'. Those make me very worried," Sugaya said. "It's terrifying if there are people out there who believe Japan is invincible."

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

21 Comments
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Good luck trying to field a US team by then. They've got a grave problem with covid.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

the Olympic games are history. they want to make a COVID high record case competition? pathetic...

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Err, no, there are many more than ‘a few’ cases of the virus in Japan.

Events which pose grave health risks must be cancelled not ‘considered’!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

This more about face-saving for Abe Shinzo than life-saving and protecting for many, many more people, Japanese and foreign.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

Think the Olympics is dead, everything now is just a death convolution. The only people pushing it are those same people who made huge money from an event that didn't happen and will probably never happen.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

These Olympic games are dead.

While the COVID situation is a tragedy, I find it hilarious that Abe and his crooked gang, as well as most other JP politicians, made these games such a pillar of their careers.

I also find it somewhat amusing that the JP public allowed crooks like Abe to modify national security, privacy, and international policy laws specifically for these Olympic games that will never end up happening. But the public will be stuck with those new laws allowing for increased invasion of privacy.

You reap what you sow.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

The “official start “ is one year away but the unofficial date when cancelling the event has to be decided is a lot closer. I expect the realisation the the “new” olympic plans with half empty stadiums and some teams considered too risky to allow into the country, will convince the organisers that its time to pull the plug sometime around year end.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

That is much lower than 14% in the state of New York in April, and 7% in Stockholm

smooth. Comparing with the two countries who’ve decided to do nearly nothing about it

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Two years to a vaccine. No vaccine, no Olympics.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@Paradoxbox

I find it hilarious that Abe.....made these games such a pillar of their careers.

The JOC decided to push Tokyo for the Games BEFORE Abe came to power. The people who pushed for it were Tokyo Gov. Ishihara, Prime Minister Noda and lots of folks inside the JOC.

By the time Abe became PM, the groundwork had been laid.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

With events like the Olympics, the virus will come in for sure and the number of infections will shoot up inevitably."

That is assuming there will be no domestic infections. Which is an impossibility with the negligible testing.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Talks about how Japan has ridden out the first wave successfully. Talks about 'Japan miracle'. Those make me very worried," Sugaya said. "It's terrifying if there are people out there who believe Japan is invincible."

Terrifying indeed.

The sad part is that an overwhelming portion of the population believe it because the experts are the ones propagating the narrative.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

In case anyone cannot remember. On March 14th: Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe insisted the Tokyo Olympics would go ahead in the summer, as planned, despite the global coronavirus pandemic. Abe moved to dampen speculation that the Games would be postponed, or canceled. "We will overcome the spread of the infection and host the Olympics without problem, as planned," Abe told a news conference in Tokyo.

Whether Abe was delusional, fabricating a lie or involved in magical thinking is unknown, any rational individual would have realized the impossibility of holding the games during a pandemic.

Abe certainly supports the games hoping they would be added to his so-called legacy. To wit: Prime Minister Abe pushed for a one-year delay of the Tokyo Olympics rather than two during talks with the head of the Olympic organizing committee. A two-year delay would have blown past his tenure as leader of his party, which comes up in September 2021. Such is an obvious display of ego and untramelled ambition, not wedded to public service, but certainly self-serving. Mark him well along with others of his ilk.

However Abe may envision the legacy of the games, it was not his handiwork that brought the games to Tokyo. All the machinations to acquire the games were in play well before Abe returned to becoming PM. All which culminated in Tokyo being selected as the host city during the 125th IOC Session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 7 September 2013.

Prior to Abe assuming the office of prime minister: PM Yoshihiko Noda pushed for the Olympics and the paperwork was submitted in 2012, but, preparations were enacted long before 2012.

Among the cabal supporting the acquisition of the games was Tsunekazu Takeda, a Japanese aristocrat, President of the Japanese Olympic Games. Apparently, Tsunekaza Takeda, descended from the line of emperors, employed the time tested strategy involving corruption and bribery 'buying' votes to secure the 2020 Olympic Games. Takeda resigned amidst the accusations and indictment of corruption which involved a time tested scheme of funneling monies through shell companies, an imaginative means of 'offshoring'.

The involvement of numerous hacks, vested parties and aging pols follows a typical pattern in the manufacturing and creation of the games to turn a profit for the few and incur public debt which has continually failed to be offset by any other means. Formulated as a way to enhance one's public image, secure patrons, turn a personal profit and further a career or serve as a capstone, the once 2020 Olympics will be an abject failure involving the likes of Abe, Koike, Takeda, Watanabe, Noda, and others.

A further point: Japan has built a raft of new facilities for the Games, including a 156.9 billion yen ($1.42 billion) National Stadium, and hoped for a huge boost in tourism, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a cornerstone of his economic plan. 1.2 trillion yen has been invested in the games. The 2.500 trillion yen ($25 billion) budget has been used up & exhausted. Additional costs to hold the games in 2021 are as high as 600 billion yen ($6 billion). Another nail in the coffin of the economy. You can turn off the Olympic countdown clock in front of Tokyo Station.

What is unfortunate, is the careers of athletes in the less than marquis sports and those who are more in the amateur sphere and not high dollar big sponsor athletes. And the many athletes in team sports who are at their peak or this is the final year. And certainly, the lifetime chance for athletes to perform in their home country, which is not a single example, but simply apparent.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

So much for planning. It's not like they aren't already running at a loss or that any tourist is going to come. It's a show of a waste of billions in taxpayers money. Literally tossed

Also with the next Olympics in Beijing for 2022 you can forget that too. Are they going to arrest everyone?

Olympics is over, and the next one and the next one too.

Could be eight to twelve years

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Who the heck do these "experts" think they are?? Koike has CLEARLY stated that the JOC has it's own experts on the case, like people who specialize in accepting brown envelopes, people with economic backgrounds, and very wise, completely uncorrupt politicians who just by change have ties to the construction and other industries that benefit from having the Games... by coincidence, of course.

"But they say concrete plans are unlikely to shape up before the end of this year."

Concrete plans and Japan do not fit in the same sentence together. Just watch what happens at schools if it rains on a day they were supposed to have the sports day, then rains on the substitute day as well. It's like the world is ending.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

But they say concrete plans are unlikely to shape up before the end of this year.

I’m not on the Olympic committee, but if I were I would come up with a range of ‘concrete’ contingency plans for a whole range of situations:

Vaccine is found before March 31, 2021, but not available to masses of humans;

Vaccine is found but available only to XX number of people;

Vaccine is found and is available freely to everyone;

Vaccine is not found before March 31, 2021.

There, sitting in my armchair I’ve come up with four situations for which I would assign my employees to come up with contingency plans for.

But I’m not on the committee, so what do I know?

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Good luck trying to field a US team by then. They've got a grave problem with covid.

True and this might be the least attended or watched Olympics in history.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The most expensive Olympics never held. $30 billion.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan's success in containing the virus is part of the reason. A recent government survey showed only 0.1% of Tokyo residents have coronavirus antibodies.

Success, my foot! As Trump says, you can get fewer cases by doing fewer tests. We're not stupid.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

PLEASE save lives. Forget Olympics.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Clearly the games should be cancelled.

I am not one of those on this site who froth at the mouth with their anti-Abe incoherencies but we must force him to accept they are OFF.

Indeed - the entire fallacious concept of the "Olympic Games" should end with the symbolism of the "non-games" of Tokyo

.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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