Tokyo Olympics: Lancet calls for ‘global conversation’ on whether to cancel

A prominent medical journal has called for a "global conversation" about how to handle the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, which are set to kick off next month despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In the article, published June 12 in The Lancet, the authors criticized global health organizations for largely staying silent on the topic.

"Global health organizations have been largely silent on whether the Games should proceed. WHO refuses to be drawn on whether they should go ahead. The ECDC has told The Lancet it has not specifically performed or even discussed a risk evaluation for the Olympics," the journal’s authors wrote.

The journal reported that lengthy petitions have been signed in Japan, 10,000 volunteers have resigned, and several opinion polls have shown that most respondents thought the Games should be postponed or canceled. 

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"With 6 weeks until the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games begin, concerns over the safety of the Games amid the COVID-19 pandemic are intensifying," the authors wrote. "Public health experts have expressed strong reservations about how well the risks are being mitigated in articles and before parliamentary committees." 

And while the International Olympic Committee has the final approval to decide the fate of the Olympic Games, the event carries huge economic incentives for Japan. 

The IOC and the Japanese government insist the games will go ahead safely, as the number of attendees allowed to the games has been halved. In addition, two negative COVID-19 tests are required from participants before departure for Japan as well as daily testing during the games.

In May, the IOC said the Olympic Games would happen even if a state of emergency were to be declared this summer in Japan.

"We have successfully seen five sports hold test events during a state of emergency," said John Coates, a vice president of the IOC. "All of the plans to protect safety and security of athletes are based around worst possible circumstances. So the answer is absolutely yes."

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International spectators have been barred from the event, but more than 15,000 athletes from more than 200 countries will travel to Tokyo, as well as thousands of officials, journalists and support staff. 

Meanwhile, the authors said that control and prevention of COVID-19 — including vaccination — are highly variable worldwide.

"Their vaccination is not mandatory and mixing could risk avoidable transmission of SARS-CoV-2, including emerging viral variants, seeding fresh outbreaks when attendees return home," the authors wrote. "The Games might also adversely affect the COVID-19 situation within Japan, where case numbers are falling, but several regions remain under a state of emergency."

According to data issued Friday by Johns Hopkins, only 5.6% of Japan’s population is fully vaccinated. There have been more than 777,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases to date in Japan, and the virus has claimed more than 14,000 lives in the country.

"This silence is a deflection of responsibility. The risks of the Games, and how they are being managed, need wide scrutiny and approval. There needs to be a global conversation about the Games, and it needs to happen now," the authors wrote.