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Editorial: Tokyo Games review plan must not disregard COVID-19 infection risks

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games have agreed on a plan to simplify the Tokyo Games, postponed to next summer amid the coronavirus pandemic.


Under the agreement, a wide range of cost-cutting measures are planned, from slashing the number of officials related to the games and opening and closing ceremony guest invitations, to reviewing decorations at event venues and canceling the welcome ceremonies for delegations entering the athletes’ village.


The Tokyo organizing committee will calculate the updated costs based on the accord. However, those cost-cutting measures are projected to save no more than several dozen billion yen (several hundred million dollars), while the cost of postponing the games is already estimated to have reached the hundreds of billions of yen. It appears that the simplification of the games alone will not result in major cost savings.


Meanwhile, coronavirus prevention measures presented by the Japanese government to the Tokyo organizing committee and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government entail additional outlays and numerous extra tasks.


An estimated 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries and regions are expected to participate in the Tokyo Games.


Under the government plan, foreign athletes will be required to undergo coronavirus tests within 72 hours prior to their departure and acquire certificates showing negative results. They will also be asked to go through testing when they enter Japan and just before they start competing in events.


Foreign athletes will also be required to take buses and other transportation methods prepared by the organizing committee when they travel in Japan, and submit action plans for their stays. Meanwhile, they will be exempted from the 14-day quarantine period now required upon arrival in Japan.


However, it cannot be said that sufficient countermeasures have been prepared for infections in the athletes’ village or at event venues.


IOC President Thomas Bach has expressed confidence about holding next summer’s Tokyo Games, saying they will surely succeed and referring to the development of COVID-19 vaccines by pharmaceutical companies. “In the first couple months of next year we will have different vaccines,” Bach said. “They will be available in very considerable doses.”


But as vaccine development takes time, it remains unknown when they will be available across the world. There are also concerns over a possible resurgence of coronavirus infections heading into winter. The organizers must not make light of the infection risks.


The virus issue is not limited to athlete delegations. Normally, the quadrennial event draws several million spectators, including fans from overseas. It is a source of concern that the organizers have yet to specify whether the Tokyo Games will be held with no spectators, reduced numbers or without restrictions.


The presence or absence of spectators greatly affects infection control measures, as well as public transportation plans during the games and the placement of security guards and volunteer staff, among other preparations. The organizers are urged to make a swift decision on audience size.


There are 300 days to go before the Tokyo Olympics, yet we would have to say the hurdles remain high for the organizers to put on a genuine event.

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