Cases of COVID-19 are increasing among Olympic delegates and about 15 percent of site residents are not immune, prompting warnings from medical experts about the potential ripple effects if the world’s largest sporting event does not suppress transmission of the virus.
The Tokyo-based Olympics are set to begin on Friday with the opening ceremony, and organizers have described the Tokyo-based Olympics as safe and secure, but so far it has been plagued by infections among athletes, hotel workers and other event participants – and participants in this The event was not required to receive a vaccine.
At least 67 cases have been detected among those accredited to the Games since most athletes and officials began arriving on July 1, officials said Tuesday. The head of the Tokyo Organizing Committee has not ruled out canceling the event entirely if cases begin to rise.
“You’re now introducing risk factors from elsewhere,” Dr. Nitin Mohan, an epidemiologist and public health consultant in Toronto, told CBC News.
“Somewhere there will be a breaking point.”
Just last week, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said strict protocols at the Games would not result in “zero” the risk of infection for participants in residents of Japan, which is seeing a spike in cases among its largely unvaccinated population.
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But Kenji Shibuya, former director of the Institute of Population Health at King’s College London, recently told Reuters that actual conditions on the ground were “quite the opposite”, with the potential for fueling clusters of infections in village dwellings or among local residents.
“The bubble system is clearly somehow broken,” Shibuya said.
Watch | Fears of Covid-19 are increasing with the approach of the Tokyo Olympics:
Vaccination is not required to participate
Concerns about the Olympics, which have been postponed for a year during the pandemic, have recently increased with increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases in most parts of the world due to more contagious variants and lower vaccination rates in many countries.
In Japan, the seven-day average for new daily cases is now more than 3,000, and just over 20 percent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated.
“It is concerning if the correct precautions and protocols are not put in place,” Mohan said.
The IOC has implemented strict testing systems and regulations, including no- spectator venues and a playbook encouraging delegates to avoid physical contact.
But according to those guidelines, “athletes will not be required to receive a vaccine in order to participate in the Games.”
On Monday, Bach of the International Olympic Committee said 85 percent of the Olympic village’s residents have either been vaccinated or immunized against COVID-19, leaving about 15 percent unprotected.
This is concerning, according to Mohan, who said that even professional athletes have reported long-term health effects after contracting the coronavirus.
“Allowing unvaccinated athletes to be in an environment where they could contract the virus is dangerous,” he said.
Some Olympic athletes remain unvaccinated by choice, including American swimmer Michael Andrew, Who made the headlines For refusing to get a shot because he was afraid it would interfere with his pre-competition training.
“We’re sure if you test people and you mitigate through masking, ventilation, spacing and all that sort of thing, the risk is actually very low…but if you have gaps in that, then you’re going to have problems,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, M.D. Infectious diseases in the Sinai Health System in Toronto.
Watch | The IOC’s Bach says the risk of spreading COVID-19 is ‘zero’ from participants:
Games may avoid ‘total catastrophe’
On Tuesday, Toshiro Muto, chair of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, did not rule out canceling the international event if COVID-19 cases continued to rise.
“We will continue discussions if there is a rise in the number of cases,” he told a news conference.
So far, all indications are that the infection persists.
Tests have so far confirmed four athletes – out of the 11,000 runners expected to remain in the Olympic Village – while entire teams have been affected by the potential exposures.
In one case, the first six members of a Brazilian judo team who landed in Tokyo were forced into isolation after COVID-19 cases were discovered among staff at a hotel they were staying at in Hamamatsu, southwest of Tokyo, while they waited to compete.
“Tokyo is booming, bringing people from all over the world, with all the different challenges they face, to a country and a city that is already facing its own challenges — that’s definitely not a public health move,” Morris said.
However, if the games can maintain fairly high limits, he said the event should be able to avoid becoming a “total disaster”.
Morris said some injuries are expected among the participants, but that the chance of the Olympics fueling a mass super-serving event is unlikely.
“If there is, it will be [because of] “Protocol violations in the athletes’ village,” Morris said.