As COVID-19 cases tied to Tokyo Olympics rise, experts warn of 'worrying' situation on the ground

CBC -- Jul 22
COVID-19 cases among Olympic delegates are on the rise and roughly 15 per cent of those staying on site are unvaccinated, prompting warnings from medical experts about potential ripple effects if the world's largest sporting event doesn't clamp down on virus transmission.

Set to begin on Friday with the opening ceremony, the Tokyo Olympic Games were touted as safe and secure by organizers, but have so far been plagued by infections among athletes, hotel workers, and others involved with the event — and those participating have not been required to get a vaccine.

At least 67 cases have been detected among those accredited for the Games since most athletes and officials began arriving on July 1, officials said on Tuesday. The head of the Tokyo organizing committee didn't rule out cancelling the event entirely if cases began to spike.

"You're now introducing risk factors from elsewhere," Nitin Mohan, a Toronto-based physician-epidemiologist and public health consultant, told CBC News.

"Somewhere there will be a breaking point."

Just last week, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach said tight protocols at the Games would leave "zero" risk of participants infecting residents in Japan, which is experiencing a spike in cases among its largely unvaccinated population.

But Kenji Shibuya, the former director of the Institute for Population Health at King's College London, recently told Reuters the actual conditions on the ground were "totally opposite," with the potential to fuel clusters of infections in the village accommodations or among locals.

"It's obvious that the bubble system is kind of broken," said Shibuya.

On Monday, the IOC's Bach said 85 per cent of Olympic Village residents have been either vaccinated or are immune to COVID-19, which leaves around 15 per cent unprotected.

Some Olympic athletes are staying unvaccinated by choice, including U.S. swimmer Michael Andrew, who made headlines for refusing to get a shot because he feared it would interfere with his pre-competition training.