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Tokyo Games could lead to "Olympic virus" strain, Japanese doctor warns

Berita 24 English -  On Tuesday, the head of a Japanese doctors' union warned that hosting the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, which...


Berita 24 English - 
On Tuesday, the head of a Japanese doctors' union warned that hosting the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, which will attract tens of thousands of visitors worldwide, could result in the emergence of an "Olympic" strain of the coronavirus.

Japan has pledged to host a "safe and secure" Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 following a year-long postponement. Still, the country is struggling to contain the fourth wave of infections and is preparing to extend a state of emergency in large parts.

Japanese officials, Olympic organizers, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have all vowed that the Games will proceed, albeit with stringent virus prevention measures. Foreign spectators are prohibited, and a ruling on domestic spectators is expected next month.

Even with these steps, concerns about the influx of athletes and officials into Japan remain, as the country's vaccination drive continues at a glacial pace, with just over 5% of the population having received a shot.

With over 200 nations and territories expected to attend, the Games, which begin in eight weeks, pose a danger, according to Naoto Ueyama, president of the Japan Doctors Union.

"All of the virus's mutant strains in various locations will be concentrated and gathered in Tokyo. We cannot rule out the possibility of a new strain of the virus arising, "he stated during a news conference.

"If such a situation occurs, it is possible that a Tokyo Olympic strain of the virus will be named in this manner, which would be a huge tragedy and would be the subject of criticism for the next 100 years."

However, Kenji Shibuya, director of King's College London's Institute of Population Health, has recently assisted Japan's vaccination campaign and downplayed Games-specific dangers.

"Viruses undergo mutation when they remain in immunocompromised or partially immunized individuals for an extended period of time," Shibuya explained.

"In my opinion, the current situation in Japan is more dangerous than (during) the Tokyo Olympics."

IMMEDIATE STATE OF EMERGENCY

The Asahi Shimbun, an official partner of the Tokyo Olympics, published an editorial on Wednesday urging the Games' cancellation. Still, former International Olympic Committee vice president Dick Pound later that day stated that the sports extravaganza should and would proceed.

The government is currently preparing to extend a state of emergency across a large portion of the country scheduled to end on May 31 - most likely well into June, officials have said - just weeks before the Games begin on July 23.

However, IOC member John Coates stated that the Olympics could be held even in a state of emergency, which Ueyama described as infuriating.

"With regards to these statements, the Japanese people are indeed outraged, and this is especially true for healthcare and medical professionals," Ueyama said.

The United States issued a travel warning to Japan earlier this week, but Olympics organizers have stated that this will have no effect on the Games. The White House said Wednesday that it had been assured by Japan's government that it would maintain close contact regarding Olympic concerns.

In a sign of how uncertain the situation remains, Australia's major sports leagues and Olympic hopefuls were forced to scramble for contingency plans after authorities in the southern state of Victoria declared a seven-day lockdown to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne.

Chiba prefecture, which borders Tokyo, announced on Thursday that it would cancel its leg of the Olympic torch relay due to safety concerns, making it the latest area to scale back events.

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