As for people related to the Olympics who have already tested positive, McCloskey said this is not a failure of the system. On the contrary, each one represented the cut of a more contagious chronology that could have been. “What we see is what we expected to see, essentially,” McCloskey told reporters in Tokyo at a press conference on July 19, a week before the opening ceremony. “If I thought all the tests we did would be negative, I wouldn’t bother to take the tests. “
Hey, 91 positive cases out of about 15,000 competitors and tens of thousands of journalists and other Olympic workers, not bad, right? For a few disease experts and athlete advocates, the answer is, it’s actually pretty bad, because of what it says about the preparations and what might happen next.
At least it is what some scientists and experts have said. Hitoshi Oshitani, the virologist who designed Japan’s anti-Covid strategy, said to London Times that he didn’t think it was possible to have the Olympics safely. “There are a number of countries that don’t have a lot of cases, and a number that don’t have variants,” Oshitani told the Time. “We shouldn’t be doing the Olympics [an occasion] to spread the virus in these countries. There isn’t much risk to the US and UK, where people are vaccinated. But most countries around the world don’t have the vaccine.
McCloskey estimates that about 85% of people coming to Tokyo will be vaccinated. But only about 22% of Japanese are. It is one of the lowest rates of all rich countries. Combined with the relatively low number of cases in Japan, this means that most of the population does not yet have antibodies to the virus. They are what epidemiologists call “naïve”. Which means that Japan could be, as the cliché goes, a victim of its own success. “Obviously, having these Olympics is very important,” said Samuel Scarpino, director general of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Institute for Pandemic Prevention. “Because it is certainly risky to bring people together in a gathering setting inside a country with essentially no vaccination and essentially no immunity existing in the population. “
The asymptomatic, airborne spread of Covid-19 means testing must be extremely frequent, at least once a day, to detect cases before they infect others. Strict and effective disease control measures United States National Football League and National Basketball Association for example, used all typical hygiene and distancing measures, as well as an intensive test-trace-isolation regime. The NFL performed daily reverse transcription PCR tests and gave players and staff single-use electronic devices that recorded close contact; an accumulation of 15 minutes or more counts as a higher risk. Over time, the NFL supplemented the electronics with intense in-person interviews to determine the nature of these contacts. (Masked? Inside? Eating?) “What the NBA did – or women’s basketball, which I advised last year – was design and make a bubble. Once you’re there, you’re not out of it, ”says Annie Sparrow, professor of population health science and policy at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. “There is no way to create a bubble at the Olympics. It just cannot be done on this scale.
In early July, Sparrow and a group of other American researchers published a comment in the New England Journal of Medicine expressing many of the same concerns as Oshitani. They went further, warning that McCloskey’s group strategy was based on outdated information about the dynamics of the virus.
This article, in turn, echoed criticism voiced by the World Players Association, an international group that works with athlete unions around the world. The WPA argued – to little effect, having received no response from the IOC – that the rules treat contact on, say, the rugby field to be the same as contact in individual gymnastics or on the racetrack. outside. WPA officials criticized the shared room situation and the manuals’ advice on opening windows every now and then for ventilation, which might actually be impractical in Tokyo’s extreme summer heat. Also bad in the plan: allowing different types of masks and personal protective equipment, using phone apps for contact tracing instead of dedicated technology, and a slew of other less than stellar interventions that the WPA reps, were just asking for trouble. “There will never be zero risk when it comes to Covid, but there certainly could have been more mitigation,” said Matthew Graham, director of legal and player relations at the WPA. “We, as the athletes we represent, hope that it can be done safely, but that no expense should have been spared for it.”