The head of a Japanese doctors’ union said on Thursday that holding the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, with tens of thousands of people around the world, could lead to the emergence of an “Olympic” strain of coronavirus.
Japan has pledged to hold a ‘safe and secure’ 2020 Olympics in Tokyo after a one-year delay, but struggles to contain a fourth wave of infections and prepares to extend the state of emergency in much of the country.
Japanese officials, the organizers of the Olympics and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have said the Games will be held under strict virus prevention measures. Foreign spectators have been banned and a decision on domestic spectators is expected next month.
But even with these measures, concerns remain about the influx of athletes and officials to Japan, where the vaccination campaign remains slow, with just over 5% of the population having received a vaccine.
People from more than 200 countries and territories are expected to arrive and the Games, which are expected to start in eight weeks, pose a danger, said Naoto Ueyama, head of the Japanese Union of Physicians.
“All the different mutant strains of the virus that exist in different places will be concentrated and brought together here in Tokyo. We cannot deny the very possibility of a new strain of the virus potentially emerging, ”he said at a press conference.
“If such a situation were to arise, it could even mean that an Olympic strain of the Tokyo virus would be named that way, which would be a huge tragedy and something that would come under criticism even for 100 years. “
Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute of Population Health at King’s College London, which helped with the vaccination campaign in Japan, downplayed the specific dangers of the Games.
“The mutation takes place when the virus stays for a long time in people who are immunocompromised or partially immune,” Shibuya said.
“So the current situation in Japan is more dangerous than (during) the Tokyo Games, in my opinion. “
Tokyo Olympics official partner Asahi Shimbun on Wednesday published an op-ed calling for the Games to be canceled, but former IOC Vice President Dick Pound later said they should and would go. ‘before. Read more
Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported Thursday evening that the government is seeking to extend the state of emergency across much of Japan by three weeks until June 20, with the pandemic showing no signs of abating. The Games are scheduled to open on July 23.
IOC member John Coates said the Olympics could be staged even in a state of emergency, an infuriating opinion according to Ueyama.
“Regarding these statements, the Japanese people are indeed very angry with it, and this is even more the case with health and medical professionals,” Ueyama said.
The United States has advised against traveling to Japan, but Olympics organizers have said it will not affect the Games. The White House said on Wednesday it had been assured by the Japanese government that it would remain in close contact with concerns about the Olympics. Read more
Major Australian sports leagues and Olympic hopefuls have had to scramble to make contingency plans after authorities announced a seven-day lockdown in southern Victoria to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne. Read more
Chiba prefecture, which borders Tokyo, said Thursday it was canceling its Olympic Torch Relay extension for safety concerns, becoming the latest area to curtail events.
(This story changes from day to Thursday in the 1st paragraph)
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