The year 2020, like so many other years in human history, is one the world will not be in a hurry to forget. This was because of the worldwide burden of the notorious COVID-19 virus. This pandemic saw the halt of almost all economic activities for months and the postponement of several sporting activities.
The Olympic Games which many consider being the world’s most revered sporting event with over 200 participating nations was one of the worst hit by this pandemic which led to its postponement by one year. This year’s event is meant to kick off in late July in Tokyo Japan and is to feature approximately 11,000 athletes and 4,000 support staff. This competition is expected to take place in several cities across Japan and is expected to last more than 14 days. The Paralympic events will follow shortly after this and about 5,000 athletes are expected to feature in this event.
With the Olympic Games a few weeks away from opening, several concerns have been raised on the safety of athletes, staff, and spectators during the event. These concerns are not without plausible grounds as several other sporting bodies have recorded cases of COVID-19 infection in athletes, managers, and even spectators. This begs the questions on the preparedness of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) towards addressing public concern on safety against COVID-19. Also, there are concerns about Japan’s capacity to host this event amid the pandemic especially with its figures on the active cases of COVID-19 and vaccination statistics. So, is the IOC ready to ensure safety? What are the chances that Japan will be able to entertain the number of persons that will be trooping into Tokyo without escalating the already precarious state of COVID-19 infection?
Factors that undermine Japan’s ability to guarantee safety
Several pointers hint towards Japan’s inability to host this event. These include:
- An increasing number of active cases of infection: As at the postponement of the 2020 Olympics in March by the IOC, Japan had about 865 cases of active infection with the SARS-CoV-2 against the global statistics of about 385,000 active cases. Currently, Japan has over 779,000 confirmed cases and about 70,000 active cases against a global backdrop of about 19 million cases. These figures imply that Japan’s number of active cases is on the high side and might indicate a greater chance of escalation following the games.
- Increased number of waves infection: This has been attributed to the early reopening of its economy after the first wave
- Isolation of new viral strains: In addition to the above, new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 which are more infectious and virulent than the previous one has been isolated and are widely in circulation.
- Slow vaccination rate: Data from Our World in Data indicates that about 24,017,737 persons have received at least a single dose of the vaccine and about 10,371998 persons have been fully vaccinated. When compared to Japan’s population of about 126.36 million, the number of persons who have received vaccination account for about 19% of its population. Also, the elderly and frontline workers take priority in the vaccination schedule which leaves the young population unvaccinated. These vaccination figures are very low and imply that Japan will not meet up with vaccinating a significant number of its population before the games kick-off.
Criticisms against IOC’S decision to hold the games
Many believe that the decision to hold the games is not informed by scientific evidence. Concerns have been raised on the limited ability of their playbook to rigorously assess risks and protect people including the trainers, hospitality providers, volunteers, and officials. According to the IOC, athletes are expected to produce their facemasks and are encouraged but not mandated to receive COVID-19 vaccination. The IOC’s playbook also fails to categorize risk faced by athletes as well as account for the limitations in the use of temperature screenings and use of face coverings.
With the Olympic games weeks away and Japan not nearly ready to host this event as far as safety against COVID-19 is concerned, it is pertinent that the IOC reconsiders its stance on having the games. Health should be given priority always.