Tokyo Olympics face another looming danger, no medical staff available amid COVID-19 pandemic

Tokyo Olympics face another big headache as there will be no medical staff available amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Japanese doctors and nurses fighting for the coronavirus will not have the time to volunteer to help at the quadrennial event, a medical association said, raising another headache for the organisers.

Satoru Arai, Director of the Tokyo Medical Association, which represents 20,000 doctors from dozens of smaller medical groups, said doctors and nurses were under too much strain handling the third wave to even consider signing up for the Games.

“No matter how I look at it, it’s impossible,” said Arai. “I’m hearing doctors who initially signed up to volunteer say there’s no way they can take time off to help when their hospitals are completely overwhelmed,” Arai told Reuters this week, adding that he could not bring himself to push for volunteers at such a critical time.

The Olympics were postponed from last July and August after COVID-19 broke out across the world and are now scheduled fro July 23 to August 8. But persistent clusters of infections in Japan have raised questions about the feasibility of holding the Games this year and eroded support for the extravaganza among a public nervous about athletes and spectators bringing in new cases.

As part of the preparations, Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto told parliament last week the government had a plan to secure about 10,000 medical personnel for the Games. Arai said an Olympics without spectators would relieve most of the burden of providing doctors and his association believed that’s how it should be organised.

While the possibility of a Games devoid of fans has been floated, organisers say they are reluctant to even contemplate that. The Tokyo Olympics organising committee did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment about medical services.

Organisers have suggested to pay the volunteer doctors, the report added. That would mark a departure from what has become common practice at recent Olympics, with medical staff coming forward as unpaid volunteers.

However, Arai said it was not about the money, instead, his concern is simply that doctors would be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients through the summer. Tokyo Games organisers and the International Olympic Committee will hold a briefing on COVID-19 measures at 0900 GMT, at which officials are expected to affirm their commitment to holding the Olympics in Tokyo this July.

Arai said his association had not received any details about plans. “We got worried and reached out to the Olympic organising committee at the end of last year, asking what the plan was,” he said. “But we still haven’t heard anything.”