TOKYO >> The IOC and Tokyo Olympic organizers start three days of virtual meetings Wednesday and will run into some of the strongest medical-community opposition so far with the games set to open in just over nine weeks.
The meetings are headed by IOC Vice President John Coates, who will attempt to again assure the Japanese population that the games will be “safe and secure.”
Much of Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka, is under a state of emergency, which forced IOC President Thomas Bach to cancel a trip to Japan this month. Bach was expected to address organizers during the virtual meetings.
Only about 1-2% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated, and opposition to the Olympics is running at 60-80% in numerous polls.
In one of the strongest statements so far, the 6,000-member Tokyo Medical Practitioners’ Association called for the Olympics to be canceled in a letter sent last week to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the organizing committee.
The letter was made public this week on the group’s website.
“We believe the correct choice is to the cancel an event that has the possibility of increasing the numbers of infected people and deaths,” the letter said.
“Viruses are spread by people’s movements. Japan will hold a heavy responsibility if the Olympics and Paralympics work to worsen the pandemic, increasing the number of those who must suffer and die.”
The Olympics are to open on July 23. The Paralympics follow on Aug. 24. They are a financial imperative for the International Olympic Committee, which derives about 75% of its incomes from selling television rights and another 18% from sponsorship.
Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion or organize the Olympics, although government audits suggest the figure is much higher.
There is no indication the games will be canceled, though opposition continues with small street protests and online petition drives. Last month the British Medical Journal came out against holding the Olympics.
Japan has had more than 11,500 deaths from COVID-19.
The Tokyo Medical Practitioners’ Association warned of a possible collapse of Japan’s medical system, which could come under more pressure with Tokyo’s hot and humid summer months approaching as the Olympics open.
“Our nation is now undergoing a surge in coronavirus patients in a fourth wave, the worst so far,” the letter said. “The medical systems responding to COVID-19 are stretched thin, almost to their limits. The reality is that the entire medical system faces an almost insurmountable hardship in trying our best to respond with coronavirus measures.”
Tokyo organizers have said about 10,000 medical personnel will be needed during the Olympics. They have also asked for 500 extra nurses, and 200 sports medicine specialists.
Several prefectures near Tokyo have said they will not give priority to treating Olympic athletes.
“The doctors and nurses of the medical system who are being asked to respond are already at this point exhausted, and there is absolutely no extra manpower or facility for treatment,” the letter added.
Fans from abroad have already been banned, and Olympic organizers are expected to announce next month if local fans can attend in limited numbers.
The Olympics and Paralympics will involve 15,000 athletes and tens of thousands of others entering Japan, which has had its borders virtually sealed for more than a year.