Olympics-Athletes' village COVID-19 isolation bubble already 'broken' - health expert

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Reuters 20 July, 2021 - 04:26am 32 views

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The four alternates on the team are Leanne Wong, Kayla DiCello, Emma Malabuyo and Kara Eaker. They are all in Japan with the starting six women on the U.S. gymnastics team: Simone Biles, Grace McCallum, Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey. CBSSports.comOlympics 2021: U.S. women's gymnastics alternate tests positive for COVID-19 in Tokyo

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Games officials on Sunday reported the first coronavirus case among competitors in the village in Tokyo where 11,000 athletes are expected to stay. There have been 67 cases detected among those accredited for the Games since July 1, organisers said on Tuesday.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said last week that testing and quarantine protocols would leave "zero" risk of Games participants infecting residents in Japan.

Kenji Shibuya, the former director of the Institute for Population Health at King's College London, said such declarations only served to confuse and anger people as actual conditions on the ground were "totally opposite".

"It's obvious that the bubble system is kind of broken," said Shibuya, who in April co-authored a British Medical Journal commentary that said the Olympics must be "reconsidered" due to Japan's inability to contain coronavirus cases.

"My biggest concern is, of course, there will be a cluster of infections in the village or some of the accommodation and interaction with local people."

Insufficient testing at the bubble's border and the impossibility of controlling people's movements mean that the Games could exacerbate the spread of the infectious Delta variant of the virus, he said.

Continual reports of cases that went undetected at the airport, along videos showing interaction between athletes, staff and journalists, add to concerns that airborne transmission will occur within the village and venues, he added.

New COVID-19 cases in Tokyo reached 1,410 on Saturday, a near six month high, while the Games are due to start in just three days.

Public health experts have warned that seasonal factors, increased mobility, and the spread of the Delta variant could lead to a surge past 2,000 cases per day in Tokyo by next month, levels that could drive the city's medical system to breaking point.

Just 33% of people in Japan have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, among the lowest rate among wealthy countries, according to a Reuters tracker. The vaccination push has gained steam since last month, but recently ebbed due to supply and logistical snags.

By contrast, Soma City in the northern prefecture of Fukushima, where Shibuya headed its vaccination efforts, recently completed the bulk of its inoculations, far ahead of most of Japan.

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Opinion | The Olympics haven’t even started, and they already have an asterisk attached

The Washington Post 19 July, 2021 - 02:18pm

An alternate for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, which is expected to win a chest-ful of medals, tested positive for the coronavirus while training in Inzai City, near Tokyo, organizers announced Monday. She is now in quarantine, while another alternate who was in close contact with her is “on standby.”

This raises obvious and alarming questions about the status of the six principal members of the team, who traveled to Japan with the alternates. That included the magnificent Simone Biles, who is seeking a gold medal hoard that would cement her status as the greatest gymnast of all time.

Meanwhile, Coco Gauff, the 17-year-old U.S. tennis phenom who had a good chance to win a medal, announced Sunday she was withdrawing from the Olympics after a positive coronavirus test. Two players and a video analyst for the South African soccer team tested positive Sunday, and that whole team is now in quarantine; the South African rugby coach tested positive as well. And Tokyo organizers said another “non-Japanese” athlete, whom news reports identified as a team staffer from the Czech Republic, also had a positive test result.

There is — obviously — no requirement that athletes and members of their entourages be vaccinated, though some of the people who tested positive had been inoculated. And given the infectiousness of the delta variant, even asymptomatic people may put others at risk. With only about 22 percent of the Japanese population fully vaccinated, the Tokyo Olympics are what you might come up with if you decided to design a superspreader event from scratch.

I’m hoping the Games do not end up being a total disaster; the world could use a moment of unity, and a demonstration of public health capacity. But I’m worried about the potential impact on Japan. And I’m especially worried about the health and well-being of the athletes who will live in proximity to one another in the Olympic Village, compete in events that do not allow for masks or distancing, and some of whom are not vaccinated.

Michael Andrew, a swimmer on the U.S. team, said he will not get vaccinated before the Games because he feared side effects could interfere with his training schedule. “Everything we take and put in our body is very calculated,” he said. “You know, with the period going into Olympic trials, I didn’t want to risk any time out of the pool.”

All Olympic athletes aim to fine-tune their bodies so their strength, speed and fitness peak during the Games. There is indeed the possibility that a reaction to vaccination might briefly interrupt a training regimen. Getting covid-19 during the Games, however, would end an athlete’s Olympic dreams altogether — and could have long-term health impacts that are still not fully understood.

Organizers estimated last month that 80 percent of athletes would be vaccinated when the Games begin. Given that the vaccines are so much more widely available in the United States than in most other countries, it is likely that the overall vaccination rate in the Olympic Village will be lower than it is on the U.S. squad. These early positive tests among our athletes should be a warning sign.

So why on earth are we doing this?

The great joy of the Olympics is seeing so many young men and women from all around the globe putting politics aside, competing as equals and forging unlikely friendships based on mutual respect and admiration. The Games allow us, if only for a couple of weeks, to celebrate our common humanity and imagine a better world.

In the Tokyo Games, however, the focus may be not on the quality of competition but on whether organizers can prevent a devastating outbreak of covid-19 in the Olympic Village and a dangerous rise in Japan’s overall infection rate.

The Coronavirus Games should have been canceled, but it’s too late for that now. The world will be watching not just to witness the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but also to learn the daily results of coronavirus testing. And the 2021 Olympics will always bear an asterisk — a symbol reminiscent of the spike-covered virus that sadly may be the star of these Games.

The Tokyo Olympics begin officially July 23 with the Opening Ceremonies and end August 8. Here’s what you need to know about the Games.

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