Japan is set on going ahead with the Olympics in July, despite Tokyo’s ongoing state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic.
A group of Japanese scientists, including some of the nation’s most senior advisers on the COVID-19 pandemic, is warning that allowing spectators at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics will help the virus spread domestically and internationally. Their recommendation to bar or at least limit spectators, not yet formally published but described to ScienceInsider in general terms, represents an increasingly outspoken challenge from scientists to the government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which remain adamant about going ahead with the games just 6 weeks before the 23 July opening ceremony.
Japan and IOC have already barred tourists from entering Japan to watch the games in person. But millions of people in Japan could attend competitions at more than 40 venues in and around Tokyo.
That would be a bad idea, says the informal group of 15 to 20 top public health experts, who have met virtually on Sundays since last year to discuss the pandemic. But they worry their warning will fall on deaf ears. Most of the group members likely favor canceling the games, says one member who did not want to be identified. But given the current stance of Japan’s government and IOC, “the discussion has shifted as to whether we should welcome a domestic audience or not,” this scientist says. But it may be too late “to consider any drastic changes in the way that the Tokyo Olympic Games are organized,” says another member, Hiroshi Nishiura, an epidemiologist at Kyoto University. He says the governmental coronavirus control headquarters, which is under the Cabinet Office, has never publicly discussed the risks of holding the games.