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Holding Tokyo Games with spectators 'incomprehensible': Tokyo medical assoc. head

Tokyo Medical Association Chairman Haruo Ozaki, who expresses deep concern over holding the Tokyo Games with spectators, is seen in this photo taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on June 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Shohei Oshima)

TOKYO -- Tokyo Medical Association Chairman Haruo Ozaki said it was "incomprehensible" that the Japanese government, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and other bodies are dashing head-first toward holding the Tokyo Games with spectators in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic.

    The Tokyo Medical Association, along with other medical associations in the capital, jointly signed and submitted a written statement dated June 18 to the Tokyo Organising Committee and other related parties, requesting they consider canceling the games or holding them without any spectators depending on the situation.

    But in a five-party discussion on June 21 that included the Tokyo Organising Committee, it was decided that the number of spectators allowed into Tokyo Games venues would be capped at 10,000, provided that the number does not exceed 50% of a venue's capacity.

    Medical workers on the ground have responded to the announcement with concern, saying that the decision will stop members of the public from abiding by government requests to refrain from risky behavior that may lead to the spread of the coronavirus, and that efforts to prevent infections will spiral out of control.

    "We have made progress with vaccinations, and have come to a point where we have done all we can to prevent disrupting the health care system as much as possible," Tokyo Organising Committee chair Seiko Hashimoto said after the June 21 meeting.

    According to the committee, students on "school collaboration visits" that allow schools to take their students to watch events at the games are not counted as part of the "spectators" capped at 10,000. This also goes for International Olympic Committee (IOC) members and stakeholders such as sponsors.

    After organizers indicated a policy to allow far more spectators into Olympic and Paralympic venues than the "official" cap specified by the government following relaxation of restrictions, the words "safe and secure" were repeated over and over that day -- as they have been on other occasions when discussing hosting the Tokyo Games amid the pandemic.

    The potential for falls in the numbers of newly infected people in Tokyo seems to have bottomed out, with the figures for June 16-18 surpassing those for the same days of the week prior. As of June 21, the number of infected people per day -- the average of the seven most recent days -- was 391.9 people, up by 103% from the previous week.

    The results of a survey that the Tokyo Medical Association conducted of various medical associations in the capital. Around 70% of respondents said that the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should be canceled or held without spectators, as seen in this photo taken in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on June 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Shohei Oshima)

    Ozaki, who has said that holding the Tokyo Games would be difficult unless the state of infections in Tokyo was at Stage 2 or lower, and the number of newly infected people per day at 100 people or fewer, said, "Compared to other municipalities, the state of infections in Tokyo has not improved, and there is a clear sign of a rebound on the horizon. If we were to hold the Olympics a month from now in this state and increase the flow of people, the number of infected people will rise, and an excessive burden will be placed on the medical system."

    Ozaki also says that he cannot accept the contradiction of repeatedly issuing restrictions and asking the public to refrain from certain practices to curb the flow of people, when the games will increase the flow of people from around the country to Tokyo. "Originally, whether the games could even be held was in doubt," he said. "So why are we suddenly gliding past the option of holding the games without spectators and talking about letting 10,000 people into venues? By pushing forth with the premise that the games will happen no matter what, the public's motivation to practice self-restraint will be lost and the situation will get out of control."

    In a Tokyo Medical Association survey on 60 local and other medical associations in the capital in mid-June, 30% of respondents said that the Tokyo Games "should be canceled," 38.3% said the games "should be held without spectators," and 13.3% said the games "should be held with a small number of spectators with thorough anti-infection measures in place" -- meaning that approximately 70% were of the opinion that the Tokyo Games should be canceled or held without spectators.

    Some of the individual answers that were given in the questionnaire included, "We do not have energy to spare when there is a need for vaccinations to be carried out swiftly," "This will just be a repeat of (the government's) Go To Travel scheme," and "We have our hands full and do not have the capacity to be thinking about measures for the games. It's depressing to think that they'll come crawling back to us for help once they're in a bind."

    The Tokyo Medical Association, along with regional and university medical associations in the capital, signed a statement June 18, with such views from the survey attached. The statement said that "no spread of infections and no further burden on the health care system due to the Tokyo Games should be the criteria for holding the games. Depending on the situation, having no spectators or canceling the games should be considered," and was delivered to the governor of Tokyo, the Tokyo Organising Committee, the health minister, and the minister for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

    Ozaki sees patients every day at the clinic where he serves as director, and through providing vaccinations and accepting outpatients who have fevers -- a possible symptom of COVID-19 -- he has experienced firsthand the trend of increasing coronavirus patients.

    "Many hospitals and clinics have no energy or time to spare due to vaccinations and other tasks, and if the number of infected people increases, it'll have a great effect on vaccination progress," Ozaki says. "The government says that it wants to finish all vaccinations by the fall, but then why is it going to push ahead with something that will work against infection countermeasures just because it's the Olympics?"

    Public health centers, which are tasked with investigating infection routes and arranging where people testing positive for the coronavirus can be hospitalized are heavily burdened in preparation for the games.

    Tokyo's Sumida Ward, where the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo hall will be used as a venue for boxing during the Olympics, was the first among the capital's special 23 wards to set up its own polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing center last year, and was also the first ward to send out vaccination vouchers to residents aged 64 years old and under, on June 1.

    The ward's public health center chief Itaru Nishizuka, who oversaw its speedy achievements, revealed, "If a hub hospital for coronavirus countermeasures becomes a hospital designated for the games, we will face problems arranging for patients to be admitted when there's a group infection or other developments. But we haven't been provided with important information like how many stakeholders coming from abroad will be staying in hotels in our ward, so we haven't been able to run sophisticated simulations."

    Nishizuka says that no matter what is decided about the Tokyo Games, he and his staff will do their utmost to ensure the safety of local residents and those who visit the venues.

    But he pointed out, "If the virus measures change time and time again, the public will stop listening to the government." He went on to say, "If we see the worst-case scenario, in which after having the number of spectators allowed inside venues increased to the maximum limit, members of the public stop complying with requests to keep the flow of people low in their day-to-day lives, we will see a 'fifth wave' in August."

    (Japanese original by Shohei Oshima, Tokyo City News Department)

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