The Olympic Games are considered to be the world’s most prestigious sports competition, with more than 200 nations participating. However, this year’s Olympic Games, which are being hosted by Japan, are facing complications due to the global Covid-19 pandemic. In late July, approximately 11,000 athletes and 4,000 athletic support staff will gather for more than two weeks of competition at various hosting cities. Another 5,000 athletes will attend the Paralympics, which follows shortly after. According to the Tokyo 2020 Playbooks, which were developed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee to ensure that all participants and spectators remain safe and healthy during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, both spectators and athletes should take responsibilities to supply their own face coverings and are advised to be vaccinated against Covid-19 before the Games begin.
Some of Japan’s most senior advisers on the Covid-19 pandemic have warned that allowing millions of spectators at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will facilitate the spread of the virus both domestically and internationally. The Olympics were originally scheduled to take place in 2020 but were postponed for a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Currently, Japan’s Government has extended a state of emergency covering major cities until late June, which has led to further calls to postpone or cancel the Olympic Games.
GlobalData’s latest Coronavirus Disease 2019 dashboard highlights a downward trend in new Covid-19 case numbers for Japan as it’s coming off its fourth wave of infection since the beginning of the pandemic. The number of daily new cases has sharply declined from a peak of more than 7,000 cases on May 12 to just under 2,000 cases on June 16. The total number of confirmed cases in Japan is currently at 779,500 cases, placing the country 34th in a number of cases globally. GlobalData’s analysis shows that Japan was initially considered to have had one of the most successful responses to the pandemic due to using a cluster-based approach, compared to South Korea’s large-scale testing initiatives. However, Japan has been criticised for reopening its economy too soon after its first wave and has paid a heavy price for it, as seen in the multiple waves that followed.
Various concerns have been raised over hosting the Olympics, as the prestigious event only occurs once every four years. One of these concerns is that the Olympics could lead to the spread of more contagious Covid-19 variants, particularly as the event brings large numbers of athletes, media outlets, domestic spectators, local volunteers and officials together in one place. Many guidelines and policies are being put into place to mitigate this risk, including advising support staff and athletes to avoid public transport, tourist attractions, restaurants and bars to avoid chances of catching or spreading the airborne disease. Although the IOC has warned that non-compliance with the guidelines could lead to individuals being disqualified from competing, there is no real indication of how these countermeasures will be enforced.
Japan’s vaccination rate has been relatively slow and is adding to concerns about the possible spread of Covid-19. According to reports from Our World in Data, 26.4 million doses were administrated and around 7.11 million people have been fully vaccinated in Japan. However, for Japan’s 125.36 million inhabitants, this equates to just over 5% of its total population being fully vaccinated. Medical workers and those ages 65 years and older were prioritised to receive vaccines and vaccinations for those under 65 years of age will start in the next few weeks, which means that only a small proportion of the population will be fully vaccinated if the Olympic Games continue as scheduled. As such, GlobalData expects that Japan will see increased daily case numbers and a further strain on the country’s healthcare system after the Games have ended.