- BBC News World
Covid-19, despite the many precautions taken, is the great fear of these Olympic Games.
In recent days, the news of the number of COVID-19 infections among athletes and people who are part of the organization has been increasing.
And the statistics increase fears that the jousting will end up being permanently affected with a high concentration of infections in a group or, what is worse, that the Games will end up being a “super contagious” event.
If there is anyone who understands the risk of hosting the Olympics during a pandemic, it is Dr. Tara Kirk Sell.
Her career as an elite swimmer reached its peak when she won the silver medal for the US in Athens 2004. She then turned to medical research.
Now it is part of the Johns Hopkins Institute Public Health Safety Team.
And she tells the BBC, from her experience as an athlete and as a health expert, what the authorities in Japan are planning to keep athletes safe.
More than 11,000 athletes from 205 countries travel to the Games, from all corners of the planet. That leads scientists to think that Tokyo 2020 could allow the spread of the different variants of covid-19 very effectively.
“When the athletes arrive in the country, they are being examined,” notes the scientist.
This exam is in addition to the one that all participants have to take by obligation before even getting on the plane that takes them to Japan.
The bad news is that several of the athletes who arrived in Japan have already tested positive for the virus.
“I think the testing procedures practically guarantee that we will continue to see positive cases as more athletes arrive, “anticipates Sell.
Once housed in the Olympic village, medal hopefuls need to be transported to their training and competition venues, a logistical endeavor that has been ambitious and chaotic in the past.
Sell recalls that she once had to sit on a bus full of athletes when he was competing in Athens so he could get to one of his competitions on time.
Now, the displacements through Tokyo will be very different from those of other fair, as part of the protection measures.
Transportation will have “more small private vans than large buses where people go mixed,” explains the academic.
Life in the Olympic Village
Another big difference will be the experience inside the Olympic village.
“Being in the Olympic village is quite impressive. You have the opportunity to see people from all over the world and meet people who are not like you,” says the swimmer.
“Being around other athletes who live in the same place, eating together, is an experience where you learn about other people.”
This is the complete opposite of what authorities want to happen during a pandemic.
“Most of those opportunities to meet others, to learn from each other’s cultures, will be reduced. Most athletes are supposed to eat in their bedrooms,” he notes.
Those who venture into the dining room will find plastic screens between the seats and alcohol wipes to clean the table after they have finished eating.
No alcohol will be sold either, and the social distancing measures will undoubtedly affect any potential romance between the athletes.
“They will be there to compete and represent their country, that is something that we must not forget, “says the researcher.
“Because for me, as an athlete, that was undoubtedly the main reason I was at the Olympics: it was not to celebrate, it was to compete and make the training of the last four years worthwhile,” he adds.
And once the athletes enter To the olympic village, competing will be the only reason whereby they will be allowed to leave until they return home.
“The sights are part of the appeal of the Olympics for the host city – for people to come and you can show what a great host you are,” Sell concludes.
“So it’s a shame Tokyo can’t do that this year.”
“Another great moment is when you arrive at the stadium and are greeted by dozens of fans shouting your name or that of your country,” recalls Sell.
“That is perhaps the great moment for every athlete. Being able to compete for your country in the Olympics is a great honor and I think I will never forget it, “he says.
And a city that hosts the Olympic and Paralympic Games typically receives thousands of tourists during competitions.
“These Games will be different because fans are not allowed. The athletes will be there, the staff will be there, there will be some press, “says the doctor. But there will be no fans.
The organizing authorities first prohibited the arrival of spectators from abroad and later the attendance of the local public to the stages, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the virus.
And the city was also declared in a state of emergency because infection rates had increased.
“The only support is going to come from your teammates. The absence of the public is going to be felt, “says Sell.
“I think it might be fine for some athletes who are already used to dealing with it, but others who generally feed off the crowd may not be able to achieve the same results,” he noted.
A super contagious event?
Despite all the risks that hosting a massive event like the Olympics will bring to Japan, Dr. Sell remains optimistic that a super contagion scenario can be avoided.
“We have to see how well it is implemented on the ground, to see how successful it is“, alert.
“Certainly if they are examining everyone, every day, there is a high population of vaccinated athletes and they are quickly quarantining people if they present a positive case, I think the prescriptions are there so that they are able to control cases when they are identified, “he adds.
Although several athletes have tested positive, says the analyst, this does not mean that the system is not working.
“It’s a good thing, the system is designed to detect cases and that is what it is doing. But on the other hand, each case is an opportunity for things to go wrong and generate an additional transmission,” he says.
“The key is: are these cases going to be controlled? I think the Japanese have a good plan for that and we have to see now if the implementation of their measures is going to work.”
Now you can receive notifications from BBC News Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.