50,000 athletes and visitors could descend on Tokyo for the Summer Olympics with COVID cases rising and just 1% of the population fully vaccinated. Japan is worried

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Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon
Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon

The International Olympic Committee [recently] unveiled updated plans for holding the Summer Games in Japan, meticulous “playbooks” that promise to ensure the safety not only of the athletes taking part but also of the Japanese public during a global pandemic.

The meticulous planning, meanwhile, has one potentially fatal flaw: Japan’s already overloaded health system can’t cope with the additional demands the Games will bring without putting more lives at risk, doctors and nurses say. The Olympics would involve more than 11,000 athletes plus tens of thousands of officials, coaches, media members and support staffers converging on Tokyo, which is closed to most foreign visitors.

“Most health workers say even thinking about the Olympics is just ridiculous,” said Kentaro Iwata, an infectious-disease expert and doctor at Kobe University Hospital, which is in a city in western Japan where 1,700 people with covid-19 need hospitalization but can’t get a bed.

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“We are really fighting a life-and-death situation,” he said. “How the hell can you speak of a sports event gathering so many spectators, staff, volunteers, nurses and doctors? Who could enjoy the Games in this situation?”

With overseas spectators already having been banned, organizers are suggesting they may be forced to ban fans entirely and stage what some are calling a “made-for-TV” Olympics.

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