WHO says Covid cases at Olympics ‘inevitable’ as fears grow over strain on Tokyo health system
Eliminating risk from Covid-19 is impossible, the head of the World Health Organization told sports officials on Wednesday in Japan, at the same time as experts warned rising cases in Tokyo could overburden the medical system.
The number of cases linked to the Games in Japan reached 79 on Wednesday, as more athletes tested positive at home and were unable to travel.
Apart from those who tested positive at home, several athletes who arrived at Japan have tested positive as well.
The Games are set to take place between 23 July and 8 August, but what has added to concerns is the fact that the Olympics are coinciding with a four-day Japanese holiday, signifying increasing mobility at the Japanese capital.
Takaji Wakita, the head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, was quoted by news agency Reuters as saying that extra caution will be needed because vacation times have often been linked to a jump in infections.
Health experts have warned of the Games possibly becoming a super-spreader event as they will bring thousands of athletes, officials and workers together during a local state of emergency, announced for the Games.
WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in his comments, however, sought to allay fears, saying what mattered more was how infections were handled.
“The Tokyo Olympics should not be judged by the tally of COVID-19 cases that arise because eliminating risk is impossible,” he said.
“The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases,” he added, noting that several athletes tested positive at the athletes’ village in Tokyo Bay, the accommodation given to most of the 11,000 participants.
“There is no zero risk in life,” Mr Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, adding that Japan was “giving courage to the whole world”.
He reserved harsher words for world leaders instead, pointing out large-scale vaccine inequality was a “horrifying injustice”.
“The pandemic is a test and the world is failing,” he added, predicting more than 100,000 worldwide Covid deaths before the Olympics end on 8 August.