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The chances of the Tokyo Olympics going ahead in July 2021 are very slim, according to public health and virology experts.
The Olympics were due to take place in July this year but were postponed last month. Now, as Japan struggles to deal with a sharp spike in COVID-19 infections, experts are warning that without a vaccine, there is little chance the rearranged games will go ahead.
**“**Holding the Olympics needs two conditions: controlling COVID-19 in Japan and controlling COVID-19 everywhere, because you have to invite the athletes and the audience from all over the world,” Kentaro Iwata, a professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University, told journalists on Monday.
“Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer, I wish we could, but I don't think that would happen everywhere on earth, so in this regard I'm very pessimistic about holding the Olympics Games next summer.”
Iwata’s comments come days after leading global health scientist Devi Sridhar said it was “very unrealistic” the 2021 Games would happen unless a viable vaccine can be developed and rolled out.
Most experts have said the timeline for developing and manufacturing an effective vaccine is between 12 and 18 months, but more recently, some experts have claimed a vaccine could happen much sooner.
Last week, researchers at the University of Oxford said they were planning on having a million doses of a vaccine ready in September — although trials of the drug are only beginning this week.
“If we do get a vaccine within the next year, then actually I think that [the Olympics] is realistic,” Sridhar, who is chair of global health at the University of Edinburgh, told the BBC. “The vaccine will be the game-changer — an effective, affordable, available vaccine. If we don't get a scientific breakthrough, then I think that looks very unrealistic.”
Last week, the International Olympic Committee held a board meeting, along with members of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, where they admitted that the coronavirus would likely have an impact on the Games.
John Coates, who chairs the IOCs coordinating committee said the pandemic could impact “mass gatherings or testing of athletes,” adding that the group would be guided by advice from the World Health Organization.
Japan initially believed it had contained the coronavirus outbreak, but in the last week the country has seen cases spike dramatically, and on Thursday Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a nationwide state of emergency.
Doctors in Japan are now worried that the country’s health care system is going to be overwhelmed by the new wave of coronavirus cases because the country simply does not have enough ventilators or other equipment for treating COVID-19.
The number of infections, 10,767 confirmed cases, is relatively low compared to other countries, but hospitals are already turning patients away. One patient was turned away by 80 hospitals last week before finally being seen by a hospital in Tokyo.
In Osaka, Mayor Ichiro Matsui resorted to pleading with the public to donate unused raincoats for health workers to use as personal protective equipment, after they'd resorted to wearing trash bags.
Cover: In order to prevent the droplet infection of the new coronavirus, Sumida Ward Office set cardboard partitions at the counter in Tokyo on April 20, 2020. A paper wholesaler in the ward donated 30 cardboard partitions. (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images)