- The Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to begin on July 23.
- It will be the first Olmypics in modern history to play on a delayed year.
- The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has created concerns for how the games will commence.
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The COVID-19 pandemic is still rampant across the globe as the death toll approaches 2.5 million. Still, Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) remain committed to ensuring the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are played after a one-year delay.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has billed the Games as “proof of human victory against the pandemic,” according to the Associated Press. However, there are still some lingering questions about how safe the games will be.
Japan’s vaccination efforts are lagging.
Japan launched its Coronavirus vaccination campaign on February 17 – months after other major economies began their vaccine rollouts. Whether it will be available to the mass public before the Olympics is unlikely.
Health care workers and the elderly are first on the country’s waiting list, and it isn’t scheduled to be made available to the mass public until late spring or early summer. That could ultimately take even longer because there was already a reported delay on February 23, according to Jiji of The Japan Times.
The majority of Tokyo’s population is projected to be unvaccinated when the games commence. This would combine millions of unvaccinated locals with tourists and travelers from over 200 different countries in the largest metropolitan area on Earth.
Japan saw record infection in January 2021, with over 154,000 new cases. While the summer weather in Tokyo may reduce the growth rate of COVID-19, unless the country sees a drastic reduction in the warmer months leading up to the end of July, the Olympics are set to be a major public health risk to locals in the city and the rest of the country.
Athletes are not required to be vaccinated.
The IOC announced earlier this month that participating athletes would not be required to take the vaccine to compete this year, according to CNN.
The committee is encouraging the countries to vaccinate their athletes out of “respect for the Japanese people.”
Athletes worldwide and their respective Olympic committees are prioritizing vaccinating before the Games commence, but it is not a global consensus.
Israel, for example, is currently a world leader in vaccination rollout and even vaccinated over two million people in just the first three weeks of their campaign. Israel’s Olympic committee is presently following a plan to ensure all of its athletes are vaccinated by the end of May.
Then there are cases like the one in Italy, where the Olympic committee is opposed to prioritizing athlete vaccinations.
“We already know there are many countries where national athletes are about to be vaccinated,” The head of Italy’s Olympic Committee Giovanni Malago said at a news conference on January 30. “We will never ask for this, and we don’t want it, either. An elderly person has a sacred right to be vaccinated before a 20-year-old athlete is.”
Meanwhile, in countries like Greece and Hungary, the Olympic committees commit significant resources toward obtaining vaccines for their athletes. Still, they might not be able to vaccinate all of them in time for the Games, according to France 24.
The United States Olympic Committee is creating a plan to vaccinate all of its athletes. However, the athletes are also at the mercy of their respective states of residence rule as a priority for their individual roll-out plans.
IOC will use new safety protocols
While the IOC isn’t mandating vaccination, they are implementing several smaller precautionary requirements outlined in a series of playbooks on the official Olympics wesbite. These include that:
- Athletes must take a temperature test before entering an event.
- Athletes and all traveling team staff must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of flying.
- Anyone displaying symptoms within 14 days of flying must not travel with the team.
- Athletes and officials will be asked not to use public transport without permission.
- Face masks must be worn at “all times” except when sleeping, eating, or outdoors.
- Everyone attending the Games must download Japan’s contact tracing app.
The IOC intends to ensure that spectators will be allowed at the games in some capacity, as announced by IOC President Thomas Bach at a news conference in November.
“Having seen now the different tests in Japan, I think we can become more and more confident that we will have a reasonable number of spectators then also in the Olympic venues,” Bach said. “How many and under which conditions, again, depends very much on the future developments.”
A decision has not yet been made on limitations on spectator capacity for this year’s Games, but a decision is expected this month. If other major sporting events worldwide over the last year are any indication, crowd sizes should be expected to be harshly reduced.