TOKYO, June 20 (Reuters) – Faced with the daunting task of keeping the world’s biggest sporting event safe, some emergency doctors overseeing Tokyo Olympic venues are calling on organizers to ban spectators from jumping risks in COVID cases -19.
Organizers are to decide as early as Monday whether or not to allow domestic spectators to enter stadiums for the Games, which have been delayed for a year due to the pandemic and are now expected to start in about a month. Foreign spectators have already been banned.
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Overwhelming public opposition to the Games has eased somewhat, but a Friday poll by Jiji News found that 41% still wanted the Games canceled. If the Games go ahead, 64% of the public would like them without spectators, according to the poll.
Each of the 42 sites has a dedicated manager in charge of medical services. Dozens of veteran doctors are assigned to manage issues ranging from heatstroke and injuries to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and typhoons.
With the opening ceremony set for July 23, Shoji Yokobori, the weightlifting venue’s chief medical officer, said he was worried he wasn’t sure how many people would attend.
“The ‘no-spectator’ scenario is better than the other options. We could still have a serious pandemic this summer,” said Yokobori, chairman of the department of emergency medicine and intensive care at Nippon Medical School Hospital in Tokyo.
“I am the commander of the hall. The number of people in the audience is my biggest concern. I hope there will not be so many spectators,” he said.
Yokobori and two other military medics told Reuters the pandemic is adding additional pressure to what is already extremely busy work, requiring swift decision-making and on-site risk assessment.
Olympic organizers have held conference calls with medics once or twice a month, but have so far provided only “approximate” information, Yokobori said.
“We don’t have a lot of information on how many spectators and athletes will be there. That’s why we can’t imagine what it will look like,” he said.
“FULL BATTLE MODE”
The medical consultants work closely with the staff of the medical stations for athletes and spectators by coordinating the entire medical service, including transfer to hospitals and clinics.
A number of the site’s doctors have quit in recent months, saying they are too busy, state broadcaster NHK reported this month.
The organizers are scrambling to fill these gaps. The Japan Association for Acute Medicine recently received a request to dismiss about seven candidates for officer positions, an association official told Reuters.
The association rejected the request, saying it was an academic institution and did not offer work placement services, the official said.
Organizers did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto recently told reporters he plans to fill the shortage of doctors on site by the end of the month, without further details.
Those who have remained as medics on site, battling the coronavirus in their own emergency departments since last year, are bracing for a busy summer.
“My number one mission is to get through the Olympic period in an all-out combat mode,” said Youichi Yanagawa, an emergency doctor who will work as a site manager at two cycling venues in Shizuoka Prefecture, southwest of Tokyo.
Yanagawa, who runs an emergency medical center in the area, said he was concerned that volunteers at his site might lack training in infectious diseases.
Given these constraints, an Olympics without spectators would ease the burden on his city’s already limited resources, he said.
“But the ball is in the organizers’ court,” Yanagawa said.
“The Games without spectators would be easy to control, but we don’t make the decisions. All I can say is that we have to prepare according to what the organizers decide.”
Reporting by Ju-min Park and Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by William Mallard
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