Scientists: Canceling Olympics ‘may be the safest option’
Canceling the Tokyo Olympics “may be the safest option,” according to a new article published by scientists in the New England Journal of Medicine Tuesday.
The news comes amid a global effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, even as vaccination efforts — some more robust than others due to access to the vaccines — are underway.
The 2020 Tokyo Games were postponed in March of last year amid the spread of COVID-19. At the time, the scientists wrote, there were 865 active cases in Japan and about 385,000 active cases in the world.
They continue, “It was assumed that the pandemic would be controlled in 2021 or that vaccination would be widespread by then.”
However, 14 months later, there are more than 70,000 active cases in Japan and 19 million active cases globally, they noted. In addition, variants, such as the ones first found in the United Kingdom, South Africa and India, are more transmissible, and many countries’ populations are not widely vaccinated.
“With less than 2 months until the Olympic torch is lit, canceling the Games may be the safest option,” the scientists wrote.
“But the Olympic Games are one of the few events that could connect us at a time of global disconnect,” they added.
The scientists also analyze what they see as flaws in the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) coronavirus plan.
The group believes the IOC has failed to properly distinguish between the levels of risk for indoor and outdoor sports, sports with full contact or little-to-no contact and venues outside of the games such as hotels.
They allege that the Olympics also failed to consider the limitations that masks, contact tracing and temperature screenings have on combating COVID-19.
“The IOC’s playbooks are not built on scientifically rigorous risk assessment, and they fail to consider the ways in which exposure occurs, the factors that contribute to exposure, and which participants may be at highest risk,” the article, published under the journal’s “perspective” section, states.
Despite their concerns, the scientists believe the Olympics could bring spirits up around the world and connect people after coronavirus lockdowns separated the world for a year.
“We recommend that the WHO immediately convene an emergency committee that includes experts in occupational safety and health, building and ventilation engineering, and infectious-disease epidemiology, as well as athlete representatives, to consider these factors and advise on a risk-management approach for the Tokyo Olympics,” the scientists state.
The news comes after a top Japanese newspaper called for the cancellation of the Olympics two months before the games are slated to begin.
The editorial, published in Asahi Shimbun, addressed Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and told him “to calmly and objectively assess the situation and decide on the cancellation of the event this summer.”
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