Tokyo warns that locals pose a greater risk of COVID-19 to the Olympics than tourists

According to experts studying the event, the biggest threat from Covid-19 to the Tokyo Olympics is not from thousands of athletes and officials from abroad, but whether it will lead to greater mobility and social interaction among locals.

although Public anxiety in Japan Focus on 100,000 athletes, coaches, officials and journalists Start to arrive Seven weeks before the Olympics, epidemiologists said that the biggest risk is a change in public behavior.

Their analysis helps explain why Japan continues to promote the Olympics despite widespread opposition, because if Tokyo finally decides to host the Olympics without spectators, it can limit public participation.

“It’s not just the number of people, but the way they behave. This is the problem,” said a Japanese health administrator who had seen official epidemiological advice.

Tokyo and other major cities in Japan are still in Covid-19 emergency, Prompting doctors, business leaders and up to 80% of the Japanese public to call for the cancellation of the Olympics.Slow progress vaccination This means that most Japanese people are still susceptible to this disease.

Japan has only received at least one dose of vaccine for 9% of the population.

Experts have identified four different risks for hosting the Olympics this summer: the spread of coronavirus by Olympic tourists; increased mobility of the Japanese public; shortage of medical resources; and the threat of new Covid-19 variants entering the country.

Among these risks, most analysts believe that the risk of Olympians carrying Covid is small.

Taisuke Nakata, a researcher at the University of Tokyo, applied standard epidemiological models to the Olympic Games. Even with extremely pessimistic assumptions—only half of the tourists were vaccinated, they did not comply with the quarantine regulations, and 100 cases of infection were missed when testing at the border—they would have little impact on the Covid-19 pandemic in Japan.

According to Nakata’s model, the result of this situation is about 15 infections per day after a few months.

Despite widespread public opposition, Japan is still advancing the Tokyo Olympics © Eugene Hoshiko/AP

“Intuitively, the number of Olympic tourists is less than 1% of Tokyo’s population,” he said. Since the coronavirus is already circulating in Japan, athletes and other tourists cannot greatly accelerate the pandemic.

In fact, 80% of tourists are expected to be vaccinated and they will enter Strict quarantine Covid-19 tests are conducted daily, so their impact on infections in Japan should be minimal.

A more serious threat is that the Olympics will prompt the Japanese public to change their behavior. Tokyo controls Covid-19 by closing restaurants at 8pm and asking them not to serve alcohol High-risk social.

A crowded stadium with fans has the opposite effect. “If the athlete you support wins the gold medal, then you will yell happily, and then everyone will say,’Let’s go for a drink,'” said Shigeru Omi, a doctor who responded to Covid-19 in Japan. , To testify to Parliament.

in Nakata’s modelThe increase in public activity in Japan may increase 90-120 infections per day within a few months.

“It is obviously more important to restrict the activities of the Japanese public than between athletes or between athletes and ordinary people,” Omi said.

People protesting the Tokyo Olympics

People protesting the Tokyo Olympics. ©Yuichi Yamazaki / Getty

The third risk area is the pressure of the medical system, including the doctors and nurses needed for the Olympics, and the pressure of more coronavirus cases. Therefore, compared with epidemiologists, Japanese clinicians tend to have a more negative view of the game.

“This will keep doctors away from universities and city hospitals,” said Satoshi Hori, an infection control expert at Tokyo’s Juntendo University. “They are unpaid volunteers. Currently they are very busy in the hospital, so it will cause a shortage of manpower.”

Hori said the Olympics should be cancelled. “For a short event, it is feasible to hold it in a bubble, but hold a lot of events in many venues within a few weeks-can this really be held in a bubble?” he asked.

The final danger is that tourists participating in the competition will bring the new Covid-19 variant into Japan. Naoto Ueyama, the head of the Japanese Doctors Union, even speculated that hosting the Olympics may cause the “Tokyo Olympics” strain of the disease.

The latest coronavirus news

Pay attention to the on-site reports and analysis of the global epidemic and the rapidly evolving economic crisis by the Financial Times Here.

However, most known variants, such as those first discovered in the UK and India, already exist in Japan, although the most recently discovered variants in Vietnam do not. If the Covid-19 variant does not reach Japan, the additional risks posed by the Olympics will be much higher.

The health official said that taking all the risks into consideration, Japan is considering how to manage the Olympics, not whether to continue. “During Covid-19, we hosted various sporting events from sumo to baseball. We have experience in keeping the coronavirus at the current level without strict lockdown.”

Unless the government loses its courage in the last few weeks, Japan will soon repeat the same mistakes in hosting the biggest sporting event on the planet.

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About the Author: Agnes Zang