Welcome to the Tokyo Olympics, the place public well being, cash, and politics collide

It’s nighttime on the streets of Ibaraki prefecture in Japan when the Olympic torch comes by. A viral video exhibits the torch bearer’s gradual jog previous spectators lining the highway. Then, because the flame passes, a lady within the crowd shoots a water gun.

“Extinguish the Olympic flame! Oppose the Tokyo Olympics!” she shouts. Safety rushes round her.

Such is the backdrop for the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic video games, set to start on July 23 in Tokyo—the place covid-19 instances are rising, prompting town to announce its fourth state of emergency because the begin of the pandemic. The rising caseload is particularly troubling as a result of the nation’s vaccination charge stays low. Simply 18% of Japan’s inhabitants is absolutely vaccinated. 

However the Worldwide Olympic Committee is urgent on. At stake are billions of {dollars} in sunk prices—Tokyo’s Olympic stadium alone value $1.4 billion—in addition to billions extra in potential income for the IOC, Japan, native organizers, and broadcasters. 

A worldwide well being disaster that’s removed from over, a staggering amount of cash, and a authorities set on making its gamble repay: the forces colliding in Tokyo are unprecedented. And even with strict new guidelines on the video games, specialists fear that covid-19 may worsen in Japan.

Preserving athletes protected

Practically 100,000 athletes, employees and members of the family, and others are anticipated to enter Japan for the Olympic and Paralympic video games, and organizers say they’re making an attempt their finest to maintain them protected.

Brian McCloskey, chair of an unbiased panel advising the IOC on covid-19 mitigation measures for Tokyo, acknowledges the considerations. To cut back the danger of the virus spreading, athletes, employees, and others can be intently monitored, he says. 

“The goal is to not don’t have any coronavirus in Tokyo,” says McCloskey. “The goal is to cease these particular person instances changing into clusters and spreading occasions.”

Athletes, employees, and officers can be examined at numerous intervals throughout the video games. Residents of the Olympic Village can be examined daily, for instance, whereas the Japanese staff who are available shut contact with athletes can be examined extra steadily than the folks directing visitors. McCloskey says a contact tracing system can be used within the Olympic Village to assist comprise any instances that emerge. Anybody getting into Japan can be required to obtain a contact tracing app, and athletes and members of the media are requested to activate GPS monitoring on their telephones. Organizers say location information will solely be used if there are covid instances. 

Because the video games have drawn nearer, measures have grown increasingly more strict. Viewers members from different nations had been barred months in the past, and it was introduced earlier this month that there gained’t be any audiences in any respect at venues in and round Tokyo. 

“It’s not simply the occasion itself, it’s all the pieces else related to the occasion: the resorts, the eating places, the technique of transportation.” 

Linsey Marr, professor at Virginia Tech

McCloskey says there’s precedent for operating the video games amid a public well being menace—even when earlier ones weren’t on the identical scale as covid. When he suggested the IOC for the 2012 London Olympics, organizers thought of the potential for a SARS pandemic to emerge, he says. And earlier than the 2016 video games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, there have been considerations about Zika (the WHO later mentioned there have been no reported instances in athletes or spectators).

For Tokyo, the IOC has launched a number of “playbooks” of directions for athletes, employees, volunteers, and press.

However regardless of stringent guidelines, the video games will inevitably imply folks mixing and interacting in ways in which in any other case wouldn’t occur.

“It’s not simply the occasion itself,” says Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, who’s a number one professional in airborne transmission of viruses. “It’s all the pieces else related to the occasion: the resorts, the eating places, the technique of transportation.” 

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