As Covid cases hit record high in Tokyo, can the Olympic bubble hold?

TOKYO – Outside Tokyo Olympics bubble, the coronavirus situation in Japan has never been worse. The city and country reported a record...


TOKYO – Outside Tokyo Olympics bubble, the coronavirus situation in Japan has never been worse. The city and country reported a record number of new infections on Thursday, with the Delta variant overtaking vaccinations, straining the healthcare system.

Inside the bubble, a handful of new cases continue to emerge every day. The biggest to date, involving world pole vaulter champion Sam Kendricks, arrived on Thursday, eliminate him from the games and briefly send dozens of other athletes into isolation.

From the start, the Olympic organizers have insisted that these two worlds, inside the bubble and outside, can be isolated from each other, without either posing a significant risk to the world. ‘other. But as the Games approach their midpoint, the promises of “safe and secure” Games are being tested.

While Tokyo remains in a state of emergency, the city reported 3,865 new cases on Thursday. A day earlier, Tokyo first reported more than 3,000 new infections, warning the city was running out of hospital beds to treat not only coronavirus patients, but also those suffering from other medical emergencies.

Japan’s health ministry on Wednesday announced 9,577 new infections nationwide, and NHK, the public broadcaster, said the number would likely exceed 10,000 for the first time on Thursday.

Olympic organizers insisted there was no connection between the Games and the growing number, saying the bubble they created to isolate athletes, coaches, officials and staff from the general public remained intact.

Less than 200 positive cases were registered among staff related to the Olympic Games, including 23 in the Olympic Village and 23 athletes. More than half of Olympic Games-related cases involve people living in Japan. In addition, infections were reported among 14 police officers working in security at the Games.

Describing the members of the Olympic bubble as the “most tested community almost anywhere in the world,” Mark Adams, spokesperson for the International Olympic Committee, told reporters that the athletes “really live in a parallel world.”

He said that “there is not a single case” in which athletes or anyone in the Olympic movement have spread the virus to the general public in Tokyo. Only two people associated with the Olympics were hospitalized, Mr Adams said, with all the others being treated by medical staff at the Olympic Village.

Some infected people described their treatment as less than pleasant. Members of the Dutch delegation, including two athletes, complained about the severity of their quarantine restrictions. They described their rooms as “little boxes” and said they were not allowed to see daylight.

Tokyo Games medical director Dr Richard Budgett said the measures were needed to prevent the spread of the infection. “Being in an isolation hotel is really difficult, even though the conditions are wonderful,” he said at a press conference on Thursday. “At the end of the day, under the regulations, they have to be isolated, so there’s no getting around that.”

Despite the measures, there were signs the Olympic bubble was more porous than officials admitted.

Outside Shibuya Station, a tourist hotspot in one of Tokyo’s most populous neighborhoods, Thay Camargo, 25, who represents a small Brazilian online broadcast agency at the Games, said she visited stores and went out at night despite her work at the Olympic venues. every day. Journalists at the Olympics work under strict restrictions that limit them to their hotels and competition venues for a 14-day quarantine period.

“I was so excited to have this opportunity to come,” said Ms Camargo, who said she had completed her 14-day quarantine. “I’ve always wanted to be in Japan and explore.”

Experts have suggested that the presence of the Games in Tokyo has the psychological effect of making the public believe that they can relax, even in the event of a declaration of emergency.

Some restaurants, although they have been asked to close at 8 p.m. and refrain from serving alcohol, openly defy the calls. In a Shibuya pub, a sign on the front Thursday night read: “You can drink here!” Open until midnight. Other bars organized viewing sessions of the Olympics.

Fumie Sakamoto, head of infection control at St. Luke International Hospital in Tokyo, said she had seen no concrete indication that the virus was “being transmitted from people from overseas to the general public in Tokyo. “.

But, she added, “there might be some psychological influence because every day what we see on television is that we watch the Olympics, and it’s hard to imagine that we are at the end of the day. the middle of the biggest wave of infections in Tokyo “.

Members of the public crowded around the Olympic Stadium, lining up to take photos in front of a statue of the Five Rings. And spectators marked the course of the cycling races this weekend.

With just over a quarter of the Japanese population fully vaccinated, the Delta variant has been able to take hold. More than three-quarters of cases in Tokyo are now caused by this highly contagious version of the coronavirus.

Vaccination rates among older residents are much higher: more than 70 percent of people over 65 have been fully vaccinated. As a result, most new infections in Tokyo affect people in their 20s and 30s, whose vaccination rates are much lower.

Japan’s failure to speed up its vaccination to take out in time for the Summer Games was difficult to understand, critics said.

“For a country that hosted the Olympics and for a Prime Minister who played his fate on the success of the Olympics,” said Koichi Nakano, political scientist at Sophia University in Tokyo, “not to be able to be vaccinated in time” then that other rich countries had done it “is astounding”.

Although severe cases in which patients require ventilators remain relatively low, Japanese Medical Association president Toshio Nakagawa said it has become difficult to secure ambulances to transport patients to major cities and has warned that hospitals were running out of beds.

And in an interview with Shukan Bunshun, a weekly news magazine, Hiroshi Nishiura, an infectious disease specialist at Kyoto University School of Medicine, said the shortage of hospital beds could make it difficult to organize. of the Paralympic Games next month.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who faces an election this year, initially failed to acknowledge the increase in infections this week. Then, Thursday night, he argued there was no connection between the Olympics and the push.

Mr Suga called on the public to watch the Games in their homes and said the government was considering expanding and prolonging the state of emergency.

It is not certain that such measures will have more effect.

On Thursday night, 22-year-old Aika Suzuki said she was planning to meet a friend for dinner.

“I don’t think any of my friends cares about the state of emergency anymore,” Ms. Suzuki said. “I’m going out as usual.”

She said she initially opposed the Olympics, “but now that the events have started and I can watch them on TV with my family, it’s exciting.”

“I think a lot of people are feeling that,” Ms. Suzuki added.

Makiko Inoue and Hisako Ueno contributed reports.

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Newsrust - US Top News: As Covid cases hit record high in Tokyo, can the Olympic bubble hold?
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