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Editorial: IOC, organizers need attitude rethink as Olympic 'bubble' failures mount

Failures in the Tokyo Olympics "bubble system" intended to prevent coronavirus infections are coming to light one by one.

    The system is meant to protect the people from infections by placing athletes and associated staff in a separate environment when they are moving around or in accommodation. Since 2020, most international tournaments have employed the protocols.

    Athletes and other games-associated personnel have been supplied with vaccines by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and reportedly some 85% of individuals staying at the Olympic Village have been fully inoculated before arrival in Japan.

    But with just days to the official start of the games, holes in the Olympic bubble have been particularly conspicuous.

    One of the Ugandan delegation, who had tested negative and been vaccinated, tested positive at airport quarantine. Another athlete who went on to the team's training ground later tested positive there.

    Municipal staff who met them at the airport and their bus drivers were classed as individuals with whom the infected people had had close contact. On top of this, an athlete slipped out of the team's accommodation and is currently missing. The athlete had tested negative for the coronavirus.

    The "bubble system" at the Olympic Village has not proved impermeable, either. A number of infections and close contacts have been confirmed among the South African men's soccer team.

    But even as the plan's seams are continually exposed, organizers are still behaving and speaking in ways that reveal their lack of urgency.

    Last week when speaking to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, IOC President Thomas Bach reportedly petitioned for spectators to be allowed to events if the infection situation improves.

    The decision to hold the Olympics without audiences present has only just been made. Tokyo is under a state of emergency declaration until late August, and the state of infections does not allow for assumptions. A reinstatement of spectators is excessively optimistic.

    Bach's scarcely believable statements keep coming, including claims that the risk to the Japanese people is zero, and that the Japanese people will welcome the Olympics once it begins. We are compelled to say that he is underestimating the present situation.

    In the case of the South African delegation's infections, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games had not publicly announced their nationality and details of their condition until after the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee made its own announcement. From a public health perspective, it is essential to disclose information in a transparent manner.

    The organizing committee also held a welcome party for around 40 guests including IOC President Bach at Tokyo's Akasaka Palace State Guest House. All the while, protesters outside demonstrated against holding the games. The people are in the middle of limiting their meetings and meals out together. It is unavoidable that the party would be criticized.

    Out of consideration for the state of infections and the feelings of the people, the IOC and the organizing committee must keep in mind that they need to manage the games sensitively. Their present stance only enflames anxiety further.

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