Jab all Olympians, Japan urged

Top News | Wallis Wang 4 Jun 2021

Two local experts have joined 16 overseas counterparts in urging Japan to make it mandatory for all athletes and others in the Olympic Games to be vaccinated.

"With seven weeks before the opening ceremony, it becomes important that Japan introduces as a mandatory prerequisite one condition under which the Games could go forward - that is full immunization of all athletes, companions, support staff, press and other visitors," they wrote in a paper published online in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The 18 signatories, who include respiratory medicine professor David Hui Shu-cheong of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Lee Shui-shan, a professor in infectious diseases also at HKUC, said they believed the choice is between full immunization of participants or the Olympics not being held.

The International Olympics Committee and the Japanese government underestimated infection risks when they planned to allow almost 100,000 athletes and other working staff into the country for an event that was held over from last year, they added.

Around 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 200 countries - as well as about 80,000 officials, support staff and media - will go to Japan for the Olympics, due to start on July 23.

Those people "carry the risk of acquiring and importing new SARS-CoV-2 variants and exporting them upon returns to their home countries," the experts wrote.

And while countries would require Olympics participants to be tested and quarantined when they return from Japan, they warned, asymptomatic individuals may still be infectious.

The experts also said those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons should not be allowed to enter Japan as part of any Olympic delegation or in the press corps.

"There are issues of inequity which also arise," the experts said. "Many athletes who may want to be vaccinated may not be able to access the vaccines and thus would be denied the right to compete in the Games.

"With a donation of vaccines from Pfizer or BioNTech, this becomes a logistic issue, not an inequity issue."

All athletes and other visitors should be tested before boarding flights for Japan and remain under close watch for 10 days to circumvent concerns over vaccine efficacy and inequities, the paper added.

In Hong Kong, Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Sports Federation & Olympic Committee, said around 90 percent of local athletes have been vaccinated.

He also believed getting vaccinated was good for athletes' physical protection as well as their mental preparation, so he urged all athletes and staff to get jabs.

And Hong Kong has been communicating with the International Olympic Committee and would follow their instructions, Fok said.

But Hong Kong delegation leader Pui Kwan-kay said being vaccinated is not a prerequisite for local athletes to go to Japan.

He had been inoculated, Pui added, but he would only encourage Hong Kong athletes to receive jabs as well.

The flurry following the push by the experts came as the president of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee, Seiko Hashimoto, said the Games would be going ahead as planned.

"We cannot postpone again," she declared yesterday.

She also said the Olympics would only be canceled in "extreme circumstances" such as a majority of teams not going to Japan due to the pandemic.

"If various countries around the world experience very serious situations and delegations from most countries can't come then we wouldn't be able to hold the Olympics," she said.

"Conversely, unless such a situation emerges the Games will not be canceled."

But challenges continued to be issued.

Among them, the organizing committee saw around 10,000 of the 80,000 registered volunteers for the Olympics quitting as of Wednesday.

Toshiro Muto, the chief executive of the committee, said one of the reasons for the volunteer withdrawals was their concern about being open to Covid-19 infection. But he said the operations of the Games would not be hindered.

Japanese media were also debating yesterday the likelihood of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga calling a snap election after Games.

Suga has agreed not to extend the current parliamentary session when it ends on June 16, so he could dissolve parliament after the end of the Games in September and call an election.

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