Monday Jul 19 2021

How safe are the Tokyo Olympics during a pandemic?

The logo of the Tokyo Olympic Games, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in Tokyo, Japan, January 22, 2021. Photo: Reuters
The logo of the Tokyo Olympic Games, at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office building in Tokyo, Japan, January 22, 2021. Photo: Reuters

The countdown to the delayed opening of the Tokyo Olympics has begun, and with it unprecedented concerns are being raised about the safety of the event.

Is Japan ignoring the risk of the coronavirus pandemic for the economic benefits of the game?

Asahi Shimbun, the fourth largest newspaper in Japan, recently published a striking poll. The survey found that two-thirds of the respondents doubted the games could be safe. But, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is not paying heed to such polls.

Mr. Suga is convinced that he is not risking the lives of his people as well as those of athletes participating in the grand event. Also, it seems, the facts and figures support his stance.

Read more: Tokyo Olympics organisers report COVID-19 cases among athletes

Japan is among the first few nations to have encountered the virus. The first covid-19 case was reported in Japan after the British cruise liner Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama in February 2020.

But, with almost 850,000 Covid-19 cases, as of July 18, the country globally ranks at the 34th position, as per Johns Hopkins tally. While its death toll is less than 15,000 to date.

The jury is still out on why some nations survived the coronavirus pandemic better than others, but in the case of Japan, deep-rooted cultural values are also known to have played a crucial role in limiting the spread of the virus.

Bowing (ojigi) instead of shaking hands has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Japanese nation. And the inherent mask-wearing culture has also served as a barrier.

These habits helped Japan cope with covid-19 as well as fight the deadly seasonal flu.

Statistics show that seasonal influenza killed 2,569 people in Japan in 2017, 3,325 in 2018 and 3,575 in 2019. But in 2020, this figure surprisingly dropped to a few hundred.

Read more: Despite warnings, up to 10,000 spectators allowed at Tokyo 2020 venues

Now let’s compare the mortality data of Japan with that of the UK and Italy. Both of these Western countries are among the top ten worst hit by the coronavirus.

Britain has to date recorded over five million cases and 129,000 deaths. Similarly Italy has over four million cases till now and over 127,000 deaths from the deadly coronavirus. While Japan has to date over 840,000 cases but less than 15,000 deaths.

This low death toll is not only due to bowing or wearing face masks. Maintaining a healthy diet, regularly washing hands and keeping social distance in every possible way have now become norms in the Japanese society.

But, does it mean that Japan should follow the footsteps of England to hold the games with all the fanfare and remove social distancing barriers? Definitely not.

Tokyo must strictly maintain social distance and award severe punishment to the violators. It should be vigilant of the fact that after the recent Euro cup in England, Europe witnessed a sharp increase in coronavirus cases.

However, it must also be noted that Japan must make a greater effort to vaccinate its population against the coronavirus, as the percentage of people who have received their first shot is 31.59% of Japan's total population.

Read more: Former hockey Olympian Naveed Alam passes away after prolonged battle with cancer

As the games are set to begin on Friday, organizers have confirmed that two athletes living in the Olympic village have become the first to test positive for COVID-19.

One hopes the Tokyo Summer Olympics are safe and secure and do not put athletes and others at risk during an ongoing pandemic.