Among the surging plague and a the global scramble for vaccines, fate this year Olympic games has been shrouded in uncertainty.
Last November, three weeks before the first doses of the vaccine became publicly available in Great Britain, International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach he said he was hopeful an effective vaccine will help the Olympics run safely.
Fast forward to January 2021 and organizers may not be able to count on a vaccine launch as they hope to be delays in delivery has hampered the launch process, particularly across Europe.
“I think a lot of people have the belief that once the vaccine starts rolling out it will be the end of Covid and what we will see is that the transmission rate will start to decrease, things will become more controlled and we will have the ability to get back to the lifestyle that are more normal, “Jason Kindrachuk, an infectious disease expert at the University of Manitoba in Canada, told CNN Sport.
“The fact is that even with good vaccine rollouts in some regions of the world, we are having a hard time curbing transmission.”
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Athletes love to wait their turn
Bach also said organizers would “make great efforts” to ensure that “Olympic participants and visitors will arrive (in Tokyo) be vaccinated,” while also rejecting suggestions that vaccinations would be compulsory for athletes – something Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto echoed during a conference call. on Wednesday.
The ranking of Olympic participants on the priority list for vaccines will likely be a topic of debate. Among athletes, the general sentiment is that they are ready to wait.
“I think everyone – as far as I know about Team US – is on the same page,” pioneer Colleen Quigley, who competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics, told CNN Sport.
“Yes, we want to get vaccinated so we can go to the Olympics safely and we can have the Olympics safely, but also realize that we are not first on the list.
“There are lots of people, old people and people who work in the grocery store and who are teachers and in hospitals – all these people who are on the front lines, they will definitely be in front of us.
“We are all very young, healthy individuals. And we will just wait our turn. I feel as much as we want, we realize we will not be first in line. And I think everyone is fine with that. “
There may also be logistical constraints when it comes to vaccinating athletes on a global scale – especially given how vaccines are accessed, often associated with national wealth, varies around the world.
“We already have problems in high-income regions trying to roll out a vaccine in a region that buys millions of doses and trying to figure out: how are we really targeting people at high risk versus those who may not fall into the political category of high-risk disease fields. that? “said Kindrachuk.
“Then you start to see more middle or low income regions of the world – they’re not even at the point of being able to think about what a vaccine launch might look like because of logistical problems, storage problems, and the fact that most of the doses have been bought by the richest countries in the world. . “
When contacted regarding the issue of vaccine launches, the IOC pointed to a statement released on Tuesday that outlined the “Covid-19 countermeasures kit” to be implemented during the Olympics, including “immigration procedures, quarantine measures, testing, personal protective equipment, contact tracing and vaccinations. “
“A vaccine is one of many tools available in a toolbox, to be used at the right time and in the right way,” the statement said.
“The IOC continues to strongly support the priority of vaccinating vulnerable groups, nurses, medical doctors, and all those who keep our communities safe.
“The IOC will work with the NOC [National Olympic Committees] to encourage and assist athletes, officials and their stakeholders to get vaccinated in their home countries, in line with national immunization guidelines, before they go to Japan.
“This is to contribute to a safe environment of the Olympics, but also to respect the Japanese people, who must be sure that everything is done to protect not only the participants, but also the Japanese themselves.”
Tokyo 2020 organizers told CNN Sport that a meeting was held last year on how the Olympics can operate even without vaccinations, adding: “It is our understanding that vaccination policies are being formulated by the Japanese government and other bodies.”
More than 11,000 athletes from more than 200 countries took part in the Rio Olympics. Add in support staff and media personnel and the IOC has major logistical and health challenges on its hands in the era of the coronavirus, especially with the Olympics just six months away.
“We can’t just think of this in terms of athletes, because it’s not just athletes who will be part of the Olympics – you have the organizing committee involved, you have everyone involved. Give support, you have all the coaches,” Kindrachuk said.
“All of that is a potential cart for the virus to enter the community … you see the idea of putting people into international locations from all over the world – we just need one individual to start that chain of transmission.”
Tokyo is placed under a emergency state earlier this month when Covid-19 cases hit record levels, and across Japan members of the public were worried about holding the Olympics given the current state of the pandemic.
Recently election by Japanese public broadcaster NHK found that 77% of respondents felt the Olympics should be postponed again or canceled entirely, with only 16% supporting its holding this year.
That Australian Open, which will take place on February 8, has provided an overview of the potential difficulties facing Olympic organizers, who say they have been monitoring events in Melbourne as well as sporting competitions elsewhere.
The 72 players were placed under a strict 14-day hotel quarantine ahead of the tournament after testing positive on their flights. Others have been given five hours each day to train in a biosafety bubble.
Following concerns that the quarantine players would be harmed during the tournament, organizers changed the heating schedule and also announced that training sessions, the gym and ice baths will be prioritized for players who have been placed under strict quarantine.
There is no doubt that reducing on-site transmission will be one of the main challenges facing organizers of the Olympics, and leagues of its kind The NBA has demonstrated how “bubble” sport can operate effectively.
But only 22 teams attended in the NBA bubble, each with a roster of no more than 15.
“It would be very difficult to eliminate the risk of infection with such a large group,” Professor Alastair Grant of the University of East Anglia told CNN Sport, reflecting on the challenges of trying to overcome the thousands of athletes who live together in Olympic Village where competitors have traditionally been based.
“If you lock people in their rooms like they did for the Australian Open, you can reduce the chances of that happening. But it’s very difficult to control transmission in a large group, communal lifestyle.”
Bach is bullish
As they continue to evaluate how to safely host the Olympics, organizers must do so too cancel the report said that the Olympics will be canceled entirely.
Last week, the Times of London, quoting an unnamed senior member of the ruling coalition, said Japanese authorities had privately concluded that the Olympics could not resume amid the pandemic – a report labeled as “categorically untrue” by the IOC.
Tokyo 2020 organizers, meanwhile, offered assurances that they were “fully focused on hosting the Olympics this summer.”
At a press conference on Wednesday, Bach reiterated that the IOC was “confident” of holding the Olympics safely.
“We are not speculating on whether the games will take place, we are working on how the Olympics will take place,” he said, adding that “more than 7,000 sporting events have been organized by international federations this winter … and not a single one of them has developed into a hotspot ( infection). “
Meanwhile, the final artistic swimming qualification event ahead of the Olympics to be held in Tokyo in March has been postponed to May amid travel restrictions in Japan, organizers announced on Thursday.
The event, which was originally scheduled to take place on March 4-7 at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, will also be doubled as an Olympic test event with the countermeasures for Covid-19.
CNN’s Aleks Klosok and Homero De La Fuente contributed to this report.