Fans of the great American gymnast Simone Biles are eagerly anticipating the 24-year-old putting on an electrifying show in what will be her final Olympics as a competitive athlete. But with the 2020 Summer Games opening ceremony set for July 23 in Tokyo, Japan, less than eight weeks away, the COVID-19 pandemic, which remains a global health crisis, will limit access to most of her adoring followers.
Initially scheduled for last summer but postponed due to COVID-19, yet maintaining the original year in its title, one of the world’s signature sporting spectacles has been marred by uncertainty. While athletes in a multitude of Olympic sports continue to train and compete in preparation for the various events, there is still trepidation among a broad spectrum of public health officials regarding the safety of the expected 11,000 plus participants, coaches and other Olympics personnel.
Japan’s political and medical leaders continue to grapple with stabilizing the country’s infection rate as it battles its fourth wave of spread. Nearly all of Japan’s major metro areas are under a state of emergency as COVID cases surge. Hospitals are being inundated with an alarming number of patients being admitted for the virus and consequently resources are severely strained, similar to what hospitals across the U.S. endured during the apex of its outbreak.
Japan recorded over 4,000 new cases on Sunday. Less than 3% of its 126 million residents have been fully vaccinated compared to roughly 40% of people residing in the U.S. Japan has reached Level 4 status as classified by the United States Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, commonly referred to as the CDC, the national public health agency under the Department of Health and Human Services. Level 4 is defined as a “Very high level of COVID-19” as outlined on the CDC website and results in a travel warning.
“Travelers should avoid all travel to Japan,” the Atlanta based agency said in a statement on Monday. “Because of the current situation in Japan even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading COVID-19 variants and should avoid all travel to Japan.”
The U.S. State Department also warned against an excursion to the Olympics’ host country. “Do not travel to Japan due to COVID-19” it succinctly advised. However, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee deem the situation viable for this country’s contingent to partake in the 17-day showcase that will conclude Aug. 8.
“We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff by both the USOPC and the Tokyo Organizing Committee, coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer,” read a statement from the USOPC.
In March, a decision to disallow international spectators at all of this summer’s Olympic competitions was reached after discussions were held involving a number of stakeholders, including representatives from the Japanese government, International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee.
The 2020 Summer Paralympics are scheduled to take place in Tokyo from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.