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Editorial: Program for school kids to watch Tokyo Games at venues should be canceled

A growing number of schools are withdrawing from a program to have children head to Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic venues to watch the games in person, due to concerns it will be difficult to guarantee their safety amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

    The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games had sought to distribute tickets at low prices mainly to local governments where the competition venues are located, and invite in many children on a school-by-school basis. But spectators should not be admitted to venues in the first place, to minimize the risk of infections during the pandemic-hit games.

    Moreover, it is not desirable to take children in groups to areas with a high risk of infection. It is difficult for kids to take actions that go against the intentions of adults. Adults are responsible for keeping them safe.

    At the moment, it is up to the local governments and schools to decide if they want to participate in the program. However, they often do not have the information to properly assess the infection risk.

    Given this situation, the government and the organizing committee should do the responsible thing and immediately discontinue the program.

    In places including the capital and the greater Tokyo area that are under a coronavirus quasi-state of emergency, infections have already started spreading again. The threat of the highly infectious Delta variant is also increasing. Under such circumstances, there is real concern over the infection risks created by large numbers of people all moving around simultaneously.

    The organizing committee says it is planning to separate the venue entrance routes for children participating in the program and general audiences. However, there is a risk of people coming into proximity inside and outside the venues, as well as when they travel to and from the venues on trains and buses.

    If a cluster infection occurs among the children as a result, it is not clear who will take responsibility.

    Furthermore, the games are being held at a time when heat waves continue to strike Japan. Wearing a mask for long periods under the scorching sun also increases the risk of heat stroke. If many children are sent to the hospital, it could be a further burden to medical institutions already busy dealing with COVID-19 patients.

    Schools across Japan have been developing education content using the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Some students are learning about the cultures of attending countries, while others have deepened their understanding of people with disabilities from participating para-athletes.

    If the coronavirus pandemic had not occurred, watching the games at the venues would have been meaningful as the culmination of these lessons. However, now is the time to give top priority to children's safety.

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