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Olympic Games could create an ‘Olympic strain,’ warns head of Japan Doctors Union

Naoto Ueyama, chairman of the Japan Doctors Union, attends a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday to demand cancellation of the Tokyo Games. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)
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The chairman of the Japan Doctors Union, a lead critic of the holding of the Olympic Games amid the pandemic, warned Thursday that an “Olympic strain” of the coronavirus could emerge if the sports event goes forward.

Naoto Ueyama has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the Japanese government and International Olympic Committee’s decision to hold the Tokyo Olympics in July despite rising cases in the country and an increasingly burdened health-care system.

“It is dangerous to hold the Olympics here in Tokyo this July,” he warned in a news conference, saying that with people coming into Japan from over 200 nations around the world, “all of the different mutant strains of the virus that exist in different places will be concentrated and gathered here in Tokyo.”

Ueyama said that “a Tokyo Olympic strain of the virus” could develop as a result.

Japan has one of the slowest coronavirus vaccine rollouts among developed countries, with only 2.3 percent of a population of 125 million fully vaccinated.

Olympic officials are determined to have a Tokyo Games despite Japan’s growing doubts

With overwhelmed hospitals and an inevitable extension of the state of emergency expected just eight weeks before the Games, the medical community has been vocal in its opposition.

The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, representing 6,000 primary care doctors, posted an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga earlier this month, stating, “We strongly request that the authorities convince the IOC that holding the Olympics is difficult and obtain its decision to cancel the Games.”

With Tokyo’s intense heat and humidity expected for the Olympic months putting even more strain on the medical system, the association warned of a system collapse. As doctors and nurses are already exhausted, the letter added, “there is absolutely no extra manpower or facility for treatment.”

Japan’s insistence that the Olympics take place despite the potential health risks has increasingly become a source of controversy. Polling has shown that most people in Japan do not feel that the event should take place this summer, and one of Japan’s most widely read newspapers, Asahi Shimbun, called for the event to be canceled in a Wednesday editorial.

“Distrust and backlash against the reckless national government, Tokyo government and stakeholders in the Olympics are nothing but escalating,” the editorial said.

The prestigious New England Journal of Medicine also weighed in this week. “We believe the IOC’s determination to proceed with the Olympic Games is not informed by the best scientific evidence,” a commentary by multiple public health experts stated.

Last month, the British Medical Journal urged Olympic organizers to reconsider, noting that vaccine doses are still not widely available in many lower-income nations and “huge uncertainty remains about the trajectory of the pandemic.”

Both the Japanese government and International Olympic Committee have maintained that they are following all protocols recommended by the World Health Organization, such as requiring rigorous testing and social distancing. Spectators will not be allowed to travel from overseas to attend the event, and the government has not yet announced if Japanese citizens will be permitted to be in the stands.

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