Tokyo Summer Olympics Will Happen Despite Covid Surge, I.O.C. Says

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With the coronavirus surging in much of the world, including a spike in Japan, the president of the International Olympic Committee on Thursday sought to quell doubts about the Summer Games in Tokyo proceeding in July while not ruling out a cancellation.

“We have, at this moment, no reason whatsoever to believe that the Olympic Games in Tokyo will not open on the 23rd of July in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo,” Bach told Kyodo News. “There is no Plan B.”

Bach also said that, as of now, the Winter Olympics in Beijing, scheduled for February 2022, would also be held on time, Kyodo News reported.

His comments were in line with his previous statements on the matter, but his offering a reassurance arose after a high-ranking Japanese government official was more equivocal about the chances the Games would happen. That followed a comment by a longtime I.O.C. board member who also told a news organization he was not sure the Games, the largest sports event in the world, would go off as planned.

On Friday, the Tokyo organizing committee released a statement saying that Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga “has expressed his determination to hold the Games; the government is leading a series of coordination meetings for COVID-19 countermeasures and is implementing thorough infection countermeasures in order to be able to hold the Games.”

The statement also said the national and local governments, plus the International Olympic and Paralympic committees were “fully focused on hosting the Games this summer.”

Covid-19 Vaccines ›

Answers to Your Vaccine Questions

While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary by state, most will likely put medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities first. If you want to understand how this decision is getting made, this article will help.

Life will return to normal only when society as a whole gains enough protection against the coronavirus. Once countries authorize a vaccine, they’ll only be able to vaccinate a few percent of their citizens at most in the first couple months. The unvaccinated majority will still remain vulnerable to getting infected. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines are showing robust protection against becoming sick. But it’s also possible for people to spread the virus without even knowing they’re infected because they experience only mild symptoms or none at all. Scientists don’t yet know if the vaccines also block the transmission of the coronavirus. So for the time being, even vaccinated people will need to wear masks, avoid indoor crowds, and so on. Once enough people get vaccinated, it will become very difficult for the coronavirus to find vulnerable people to infect. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve that goal, life might start approaching something like normal by the fall 2021.

Yes, but not forever. The two vaccines that will potentially get authorized this month clearly protect people from getting sick with Covid-19. But the clinical trials that delivered these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected by the coronavirus can spread it while they’re not experiencing any cough or other symptoms. Researchers will be intensely studying this question as the vaccines roll out. In the meantime, even vaccinated people will need to think of themselves as possible spreaders.

The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is delivered as a shot in the arm, like other typical vaccines. The injection won’t be any different from ones you’ve gotten before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported any serious health problems. But some of them have felt short-lived discomfort, including aches and flu-like symptoms that typically last a day. It’s possible that people may need to plan to take a day off work or school after the second shot. While these experiences aren’t pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system encountering the vaccine and mounting a potent response that will provide long-lasting immunity.

No. The vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer use a genetic molecule to prime the immune system. That molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse to a cell, allowing the molecule to slip in. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus, which can stimulate the immune system. At any moment, each of our cells may contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules, which they produce in order to make proteins of their own. Once those proteins are made, our cells then shred the mRNA with special enzymes. The mRNA molecules our cells make can only survive a matter of minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a bit longer, so that the cells can make extra virus proteins and prompt a stronger immune response. But the mRNA can only last for a few days at most before they are destroyed.

The Tokyo Games, originally scheduled for 2020, were rescheduled to this summer because of the pandemic. But the eradication of the virus has proved stubborn and worldwide death tolls have risen.

Organizers and I.O.C. officials have said that no further postponement is possible and that if the Games do not proceed in the summer of 2021 they will be canceled, which would be the first time the Games have been scrubbed since World War II.

For much of 2020, Japan held the virus mostly in check, but in the last few months cases have soared to 5,000 or more a day. Earlier this month, Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and nearby areas, its first since April. Vaccination will not begin until late February, and mass vaccination not until May.

As a result, sentiment against the Games has risen in Japan. A poll this month by the Japanese broadcaster NHK showed that 77 percent of the country favored canceling or postponing the Games.

Taro Kono, a member of Japan’s cabinet, told Reuters this month that the Games “could go either way.”

Bach has consistently maintained that the Games would proceed. He has taken to saying that the Olympic Games will be “the light at the end of a dark tunnel.”

The Olympics would stand to lose $1 billion or more in television revenue should the Games be canceled.

Bach said that a determination on how many fans, if any, could attend the Games this summer was still to be made. Tight border controls in Japan may severely curtail spectators or journalists from attending, and those who do arrive may have their movements in the country monitored and restricted. Athletes may be asked to arrive just before their events and depart immediately afterward rather than celebrate in the city and enjoy the camaraderie of the Olympic Village as Olympians tend to do.

Beyond Beijing in 2022, the 2024 Summer Games are scheduled for Paris, the Winter Games in Milan in 2026, and Los Angeles will host the Summer Olympics in 2028.

Despite the concerns, there does appear to be a resolve among international sports officials to go forward. Sebastian Coe, the head of the world track and field federation, said this month: “Of all the countries on the planet that really has the fortitude, and resilience and the street smarts to see this through, it is actually Japan. I wake up as a federation president really grateful that it is Japan that’s dealing with this and not some other places that I can think of. So I’m sure we will be there.”

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