You will receive a small bottle of hand sanitizer and two masks each.
“They don’t talk about vaccines, they don’t even talk about the fact that we are being tested,” said German volunteer Barbara Holthus, director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies at Sophia University in Tokyo.
These concerns were heightened by Japan’s struggle against an impending fourth wave. The country passed a total of 500,000 coronavirus cases on Saturday and some prefectures are tightening their Covid-19 restrictions again as daily infections increase. Hideaki Oka, a professor at Saitama Medical University, said Japan may not be able to contain the latest wave before the Games start on July 23.
Holthus said supporting the games was a once in a lifetime opportunity. “But now it’s just a really dangerous experience,” she said.
In a statement to CNN, Tokyo 2020 organizers said they were preparing to “hold safe games without assuming there will be a vaccine, and even without vaccines”.
“On the other hand, we hope that the vaccines are properly administered at home and abroad and that the infection is therefore reduced overall,” the statement said.
Slow vaccine rollout
“They say senior citizens should be vaccinated by June, but the reality is that even medical staff treating Covid haven’t vaccinated themselves,” Saitama Medical University’s Oka said, adding that he didn’t believe the June vaccination target would be hit.
International viewers were banned from the Games to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading at the event. However, more than 11,000 athletes from over 200 countries are expected.
With no plans to vaccinate athletes, the tens of thousands of volunteers who take part have little chance of protection.
Holthus said Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto Seiko told volunteers during a Zoom call that they are relying “on your smile” to make the Olympics a success – a particularly worrying claim given that they are all wearing masks would.
“(We were told) ‘Your smile will make the Olympics exist’ and you wonder, are you kidding me?” said Holthus, who is supposed to volunteer as a ticket collector.
A volunteer whoattended an 80-minute lecture on Infectious Disease Control for volunteers at the Games, and said a top Japanese infectious disease expert told them not to expect to be vaccinated before the event.
“(He said) Unless you’re older, normal people don’t have enough time to get vaccinated,” said the volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous so as not to be excluded from her role in the Olympics. She said shefelt angry and scared after the presentation.
The volunteer, who had attended previous Olympics, said she was considering dropping out unless all of the volunteers had been vaccinated. “If we don’t do this, our lives will be ruthlessly disregarded and the optimal safe environment that Japan must host as a host country,” she said.
Tokyo 2020 did not answer questions about the content of the presentation for volunteers.
Questions about athletes
Even countries with almost no infections struggled to hold major sporting events during the pandemic.
For Japan, where there were 2,112 new cases on Tuesday,It will be more of a challenge.
According to the IOC document, athletes will not need to be quarantined for 14 days after arriving in Japan unless they have violated the country’s Covid-19 precautions or may be exposed to the virus.
During the Games, participants will be “tested for Covid-19 at varying intervals” and a “Covid-19 Liaison Officer” will be assigned to all athletes and visitors.
International guests have been asked to leave their accommodation only to “go to official venues and limited additional locations,” a list of which will be published in the second playbook due out this month.
Hugs and high fives should be avoided and no public transport should be used. A face mask must always be worn.
Tokyo 2020 organizers did not answer questions about maintaining social distancing measures in the Olympic Village.
An Olympic Super Spreader Event?
While the athletes at the Olympic Village all tested negative prior to arriving in Japan, they will inevitably come into contact with tens of thousands of untested volunteers who will commute between the Olympic venues and their homes.
When asked whether events in Tokyo 2020 would be postponed due to Covid, the statement indicated that the situation is “changing any moment”.
Holthus said in addition to the hand sanitizer and two face masks, those in charge of the Games offered volunteers a “health diary” where they could record their own health.
“It will be concentrated groups of people from all over the world who will mingle. What if a cluster develops at one of the Olympic venues? What if it comes from one of us?” She said.
Oka, a professor at Saitama Medical University, shared the volunteers’ concerns, saying the games could allow dangerous variants of Covid-19 to spread not just in Japan but around the world.
Oka said he was also concerned that Japan’s already overloaded hospital system would not be able to cope with a sudden influx of athletes and volunteers infected with the virus. “As an infectious disease specialist, I cannot approve of holding the Games in a situation where there have not been enough vaccinations and no countermeasures have been taken,” he said.
In a statement to CNN, the Tokyo 2020 organizing body said it had “high hopes” that the Covid-19 situation in Japan would improve ahead of the Olympics. “We will continue to work closely with these parties as we prepare to deliver safe games this summer,” the statement said.
Olympic Games Volunteer Philbert Ono said he trusts the government and the IOC to keep the athletes and volunteers safe.
“The Japanese love to see history. And they know these Olympics are very, very historic Olympics … these will be very different Olympics. And that’s another thing I’m looking forward to,” he said . “I just want to see how they do it.”
But Holthus said she doesn’t think the Games should continue with the current state of preparation, which is a “recipe for a super-spreader event”.
“We can’t even imagine how bad it could be,” she said. “But the damage will be done as soon as the games take place. There is no going back when everyone is flown in.”