What about the Tokyo Olympics? The scientific community criticizes the planned measures

A couple take a selfie before the Olympic rings in Tokyo.

Not just some big news outlets, such as the Asahi Shimbun, or a large part of Japanese society is critical of the holding of the Tokyo Olympics or even calling for its cancellation. Less than two months after its inauguration (July 23), the world scientific community has also begun to show its concern for its celebration while the covid pandemic is still active, and in some parts of the world aggravated with the appearance of new variants of coronavirus.

In an article published in the highly respected New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), Several experts in public health and infectious diseases criticize the measures envisaged to ensure the Games with the least risk as ineffective, postulate that the safest option would be its cancellation, but since this does not seem possible, they admit, they urge the World Organization to Health (WHO) to intervene, as it did before Rio 16 when the danger was the Zika mosquito, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to establish new guidelines of conduct for the nearly 60,000 people from more than 200 countries that They will congregate for almost 20 days in the Japanese capital.

When in March 2020 it was decided to delay the Tokyo Games for a year, assuming that in the summer of 2021 the pandemic would be controlled, in Japan there were 865 active cases of covid 19, and 385,000 worldwide, recalls the NEJM. “Meanwhile, now, 14 months later, there are more than 70,000 active cases in Japan and 19 million in the world.” In addition, he points out, in Japan only 5% of its population is vaccinated, the lowest rate in the entire OECD. This summer, 11,000 athletes, 4,000 support staff members (coaches, technicians, physios), 23,000 federatives, 17,000 television station workers and 6,000 journalists will gather in Tokyo this summer. All of them, who are reminded that they come under their own responsibility, will only be required to have an undetermined number of PCRs, temperature measurements and the use of masks that will not be supplied under quality control by the organizers. Vaccination is recommended, but not considered mandatory. Although several manufacturers have offered their vaccines to all athletes, it is estimated that those from about 100 countries will not receive them, nor will adolescents or those athletes who refuse to get it. The risk is twofold: Visitors can bring the virus to Japan or they can contract it during the Games and take it back to their countries.

And for them, they explain in the article, whose first signatory is Annie Sparrow, from the Icah School of Medicine, from the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, the IOC has published some guides that do not take into account the experience of the organizers of other competitions sports, such as the NFL or the NBA, are not supported by scientific evidence.

Faced with the obligation of individual rooms for athletes, who are subjected to a daily PCR and have technology wearable (electronic elements and chips that can be dressed as accessories or labels, tattooed on the skin or even implanted) to trace the contacts in case of positive of the North American professional leagues, the protocols of the Olympic Games foresee that there will be three athletes per room, It has not been established how often PCR will be done and the tracking will be done by installing an App on mobile phones, which will be mandatory at all times. And the obligation to take the temperature constantly or to control the symptoms is considered ineffective given the large number of asymptomatic patients that occurs. And, the authors recall, the Olympic protocols do not contemplate at all the thousands of Japanese volunteers and service workers – bus drivers, restaurant employees, hotels … – who will be in direct contact with athletes and accredited Olympians.

It would have been important, proposes the NEJM, for the IOC to have paid more attention to the way in which the virus spreads – through the air – and set different levels of risk depending on the sport that was practiced – in the open air without contact, such as shooting. with bow, sailing or athletics, they would be low level; outdoors with contact, such as football or rugby, and indoors without contact, such as badminton or gymnastics, moderate risk, or outdoors with contact, such as basketball or handball, high risk — or the ventilation control of the buses or canteens.

The cancellation of the Games, scientists understand, would mean economic ruin for the IOC, and for Japan, the loss of an opportunity to show itself to the world as a symbol of the end of fear and the beginning of hope. In addition, sentimentally, the Games would serve as an element of global connection in times of disconnection and isolation, of motivation and mobilization. Let there be Games, then, they conclude, but not like this.

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