Politics

2020 Olympics Set to Begin as COVID-19 Cases Surge in Tokyo

New cases in the host city are at their highest since January.

The 2020 Olympics are set to begin tomorrow in Tokyo. The long-awaited July 23 opening ceremony comes after the Games were postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But even after the delay, COVID is making its presence known at the international sporting extravaganza.

Data from Tokyo 2020 shows that, from July 1 to 22, 87 cases have been confirmed in people connected to the Games. Among them, currently, are eight athletes, five members of the media, 22 “Games-concerned personnel,” three Tokyo 2020 employees, 48 Tokyo 2020 contractors, and one volunteer. According to the New York Times, those figures don’t include people who tested positive before traveling to Japan.

The host city is seeing a surge in cases, and numbers are approaching where they were in January, NPR reported. From last Wednesday to this Wednesday, new cases rose from 1,149 to 1,832, a nearly 60% increase.

“The increase rate of new positive cases has been continuously rising since June,” the Tokyo Metropolitan Government warns on its COVID-19 information page. “If the increase rate rises further, in less than two weeks, we will face a critical situation with the number of infections far exceeding that of the third wave. There is an urgent need to prepare crisis management systems for hospital care, as well as for designated hotels for recovery and at-home recovery.”

Japan isn’t alone in experiencing a new surge in infections. According to global data from the World Health Organization (WHO), cases worldwide have started to creep up since mid-June. Vaccines have proven effective, and deaths appear to remain near the lowest they’ve been in 2021, but vaccine access and hesitancy remain factors in the fight against COVID-19. According to the Japan Times, a survey of local governments indicated that several prefectures have had to adapt vaccine rollout plans due to a supply shortage.

The situation in Tokyo has sparked protests, with some calling for a complete cancellation of the Games, complicating the problematic legacy the Olympics are known for in host cities. Survey data from May already indicated that a vast majority of Japanese residents don’t want the Games to go on right now.

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Officials have made efforts to head off the crisis in Tokyo. Earlier this month, all spectators were banned from Olympic venues in the host city after an earlier ban on foreign visitors. As ESPN reported, around the same time, Japanese prime minister Yoshihde Suga put the entire country under a state of emergency that will last through the entire Olympic Games.

Now, just a day before the opening ceremony, one country has pulled out of the Games: According to the Associated Press, the West African nation of Guinea has pulled all five of the Guinean athletes who were set to compete.

“Due to the resurgence of COVID variants, the government, concerned with preserving the health of Guinean athletes, has decided with regret to cancel Guinea’s participation in the 32nd Olympics scheduled for Tokyo,” Minister of Sports Sanoussy Bantama Sow said in a statement to the country’s Olympic Committee, the AP reported.

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