They are given a small bottle of hand sanitizer and two masks each.
“They are not talking about vaccines, they are not even talking about us being tested,” said German volunteer Barbara Holthus, director of Sophia University’s German Institute for Japanese Studies, in Tokyo.
This concern has been exacerbated by Japan’s struggle with a looming fourth wave. The country passed 500,000 total cases of coronavirus on Saturday, and some prefectures are tightening their Covid-19 restrictions again as daily infections grow. Hideaki Oka, a professor at Saitama Medical University, said Japan may not be able to contain the latest wave before the games begin on July 23.
Holthus said support for the games was meant to be a “once in a lifetime” option. “But now it’s just a really dangerous experience,” she said.
In a statement to CNN, Tokyo 2020 organizers said they were preparing to hold “safe and secure games without assuming there will be a vaccine and even without vaccines.”
“On the other hand, we hope that vaccines are administered correctly at home and abroad and that the infection will therefore be reduced as a whole,” the statement said.
Slow rollout of the vaccine
“They say senior citizens should have a vaccination by June, but in reality, even medical staff treating Covid have not been vaccinated yet,” said Oka of Saitama Medical University, adding that he did not believe the June vaccination target. would be met.
International spectators have been banned from the Games for trying to reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading at the event. But more than 11,000 athletes from over 200 countries are expected to participate.
Without plans to vaccinate athletes, tens of thousands of participating volunteers have little chance of protection.
Holthus said Tokyo 2020 President Hashimoto Seiko told volunteers during a Zoom call that she stood “on your smile” to make the Olympics a success – a particularly jarring requirement because they all wanted to wear masks.
“(We were told) ‘Your smile will make the Olympics exist’ and you wonder, are you making fun of me? ‘Said Holthus, who is scheduled to volunteer as a ticket collector.
A volunteer who attended an 80-minute lecture on infectious disease control for volunteers, said a Japanese top expert in infectious diseases told them they should not expect to be vaccinated before the event.
“(He said) unless you are older, there will not be enough time for ordinary people to be vaccinated,” said the volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid being excluded from her role in the Olympics. She said she felt angry and scared after the presentation.
The volunteer who had participated in previous Olympics said she was considering dropping out unless all volunteers were vaccinated. “Failure to do so shows ruthless disregard for our lives and the optimal safe environment that Japan as a host country is committed to providing,” she said.
Tokyo 2020 did not answer questions about the content of the presentation to volunteers.
Questions about athletes
Even countries with almost no infections have struggled to hold major sporting events during the pandemic.
For Japan, where there were 2,112 new cases on Tuesday, it will be a bigger challenge.
However, according to the IOC document, athletes will not be required to be quarantined for 14 days after arriving in Japan unless they have violated the country’s Covid-19 precautions or been potentially exposed to the virus.
During the Games, participants are “tested for Covid-19 at various intervals,” and all athletes and visitors are assigned a “Covid-19 liaison officer.”
International guests have been asked to leave their accommodation only to “go to official venues and limited additional locations”, where a list will be released in the second playbook to be published this month.
Clamps and high-fives must be avoided and public transport must not be used. A face mask should always be worn.
Tokyo 2020 organizers did not respond to questions about how social distancing measures would be maintained in the Olympic Village.
An Olympic super-spreader event?
While athletes in the Olympic Village will all have tested negative before arriving in Japan, they will inevitably come into contact with tens of thousands of untested volunteers who will switch between the Olympic venues and their homes.
In response to a question about whether Tokyo 2020 events would be postponed because of Covid, the statement said the situation “changed every moment.”
Holthus said that in addition to the hand sanitizer and two face masks, game officials had offered volunteers a “health diary” where they could record their own health status.
“It’s going to be concentrated groups of people from all over the world mingling. What if there’s a cluster evolving in one of the Olympic venues? What if it’s coming from one of us?” she said.
Oka, a professor at Saitama Medical University, shared the volunteers’ concerns, saying the games could enable the spread of dangerous Covid-19 variants, not only through Japan but around the world.
Oka said he was also concerned that Japan’s already stretched hospital system would not be able to cope if there was a sudden influx of athletes and volunteers infected with the virus. “As a specialist in infectious diseases, I cannot approve of holding the games in a situation where not enough vaccinations and adequate countermeasures have been taken,” he said.
In a statement to CNN, the organizing body in Tokyo 2020 said it had “high hopes” that the Covid-19 situation in Japan would improve before the Olympics. “We will continue to work closely with these parties as we prepare to deliver a safe game this summer,” the statement said.
Olympic volunteers Philbert Ono said he trusted the government and the IOC to keep the athletes and volunteers safe.
“The Japanese, they love to witness history. And you know this Olympics is very, very much a historic Olympics … this is going to be a very different Olympics. And that’s another thing I’m looking forward to,” he said. . . “I just want to see how they do it.”
But Holthus said she did not believe the games would continue with the current state of preparation, which was a “recipe for a super-spreading event.”
“We can not even imagine how bad it could be,” she said. “But the damage will happen when the games are held. There is no way to return when everyone flies in.”