Over the previous 18 months, I’ve written in regards to the devastating impression of COVID-19 on hospitals, well-being care staff, and households internationally.
I’ve chronicled the efforts of drugmakers racing to formulate new remedies and vaccines to battle SARS-CoV-2. And I’ve tracked the ups and downs of public well-being coverage that’s attempting to maintain up with a virus that makes it arduous to develop clear guidelines on masking, social distancing, and extra.
When well-intentioned mitigation measures are pitted in opposition to a wily virus, who wins? What would occur when tens of hundreds of journalists, athletes, and their help workers converge on a densely populated metropolis like Tokyo, to be placed on one thing just like the Olympics, which is about the whole lot that pandemic insurance policies aren’t?
Video games are about bringing folks collectively, actually, and figuratively; holding a fast-moving virus at bay is all in regards to the reverse.
It was clear that infections would occur in the Olympics; it will simply be a matter of choosing them up as shortly as doable and isolating any optimistic circumstances earlier than they unfold to too many others.
Japanese well-being authorities definitely instituted strict virus management measures, beginning with the working assumption that each particular person arriving in Japan for the Olympics could possibly be a possible virus service.
That’s the primary of many inconsistencies of those pandemic Olympics. Provided that wherever from 80% to 90% of the arrival journalists from outdoors of the nation had been vaccinated, and on the time, a couple of quarter or so of the Japanese inhabitants was, wouldn’t the chance have actually been reversed?
Wouldn’t or not it’s extra possible that mingling with folks in Tokyo—the place new infections had been creeping up earlier than the Olympics due to the Delta variant and reached a document excessive throughout the Video games—would show a higher danger to Olympic athletes and journalists than we might to the residents of Tokyo?
Everybody that was a part of the Olympic group needed to get examined frequently—each day for athletes and their help workers, and every 4 days for media. As well as, Olympic organizers created free bubbles of containment meant to maintain Olympic vacationers as far away from the Japanese populace as doable.
All of this seemed nice on paper within the varied playbooks issued to these of us in Tokyo. However placing that plan into motion proved trickier, and inconsistencies in insurance policies and the shortage of flexibility to regulate after they didn’t appear to work had been, to say the least, baffling. Whereas the bubble didn’t fairly burst, it was leaky at greatest. Right here’s why.
1. Airport processing
It took my colleague Sean Gregory and me seven hours to depart the airport as soon as we arrived (that’s not a typo, it actually took seven hours). The majority of that point was spent ready for check outcomes from the third COVID-19 check we had taken in 4 days—two earlier than we left after which one other on the airport. Having lined the assorted checks which have been developed and permitted now by the U.S. Meals and Drug Administration and by the World Wellbeing Group, I do know there are saliva-based checks that take an hour or so to supply outcomes.
So what took our spit check so lengthy? No rationalization; some journalists arriving on totally different flights obtained their ends in an hour, whereas nonetheless others had been additionally saved on the airport for seven hours, ready. If the identical lab or labs had been used, and the identical kind of check carried out, why the huge distinction in turnaround time? Baffling. After a 13-hour flight, it will have been good to know.
Athletes, coaches, and journalists from totally different international locations are seen throughout their management course to obtain their accreditation playing cards upon their COVID-19 check outcomes following their arrival to Haneda Worldwide Airport after their linked flights from Istanbul Worldwide Airport for the Tokyo Olympic Video games, in Tokyo, Japan on July 18, 2021.
Elif Ozturk Ozgoncu—Anadolu Company by way of Getty Photos
Most of these seven hours ready had been spent in a lounge with no social distancing (and no meals; we might solely drink water, in case we had to supply one other saliva pattern if the outcomes had been inconclusive), and the remainder of the time was spent in a single line after one other—once more with no social distancing. Sure, we had been masked, and so had been all of the volunteers, however nonetheless.
We had been requested to supply the identical paper paperwork at the least eight instances—which meant at the least eight completely well-mannered and well-intentioned totally different folks touched the identical piece of paper and handed it again to us.
This, even if we had been additionally required to obtain an app that contained all the identical data on the paper, besides in digital kind. Which might have been a safer option to course hundreds of individuals throughout an infectious illness outbreak—at the least in my view. Once more, baffling.
2. Testing and monitoring
The playbooks outlining all the procedures for holding COVID-19 underneath management targeted closely on common saliva-based testing. Nonetheless, given the sheer variety of folks being examined, and the frequency of testing, it was unmonitored.
At the least one colleague misunderstood the process—you’re speculated to register every pattern and provides every pattern a novel barcode quantity from a set of stickers you’re offered; this journalist thought registering the primary time would robotically register subsequent samples, He possible wasn’t the one one.
Plus, so-called COVID-19 Liaison Officers assigned to every media outlet had been supposed to watch all members of their group spit into the tubes offered to confirm the validity of the samples. However with totally different members in several motels and with totally different schedules, how is that doable or life-like? I’m keen to guess most individuals spit into their tubes within the privateness of their very own loos. I received even speculate about individuals who might need, let’s consider, “manipulated” their samples for the sake of comfort.
3. The resort
With all of the warnings about COVID-19 restrictions and different pandemic-related protocols and procedures, I anticipated our resort to be fairly sparsely occupied, and solely by international journalists at that. Everybody getting into Japan is required to observe a 14-day quarantine, which implies no driving public transportation, no strolling around Tokyo streets, and no mingling with the Japanese inhabitants in eating places, bars, or different institutions.
For journalists, that meant we might solely go away our motels to go to Olympic venues, on Olympic buses, or to the close by 7-Eleven for prepackaged meals and ramen (I ate so, a lot of ramens). As a result, in fact, we had been quarantined, however, our motels solely served breakfast and didn’t present lunch or dinner.
So think about my shock once I noticed, all through my complete keep, non-Olympic visitors on the resort—they actually out-numbered the Olympic ones. I noticed them at breakfast—we shared the identical air house, indoors, and stood behind one another in line for juice and occasional.
If Olympic officers had been so intent on holding international guests in a bubble to forestall them from importing the virus and spreading it within the nation, why permit them to remain along with Japanese residents and danger exposing them? Really, actually baffling.
4. The buses
The transport system is the bane of each Olympics—drivers from different cities who don’t know the host metropolis’s streets, schedules that don’t have anything to do with the timing of occasions; decide up and drop off factors that add as much as an hour to the transit time. How would social distancing have an effect on this already inefficient system?
By no means, apparently. Earlier than the Video games even formally started, buses carted hundreds of journalists from the press heart to Olympic Stadium for Opening Ceremony regardless of indicators in some buses that the utmost variety of passengers was 30, to make sure that everybody might sit in their very own row and apply social distancing.
As soon as the Ceremony was over, the buses returning media to the press heart had been equally stuffed, as was the road for getting on these buses, which resembled the mad rush earlier than the doorways open for a Black Friday sale. I emailed Press Operations in regards to the state of affairs, and the Worldwide Olympic Committee had this to say: “We’re conscious of the issues across the media transport and are chatting with the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee in an effort to assist them to resolve the state of affairs.”
5. The combined zone
Ah, the combined zone, that mad crush of journalists ready in what quantities to an enclosed pen, often within the bowels of an environment, for athletes to swing by and charm them with a quote or two.
Media had been warned that combined zone entry in Tokyo could be restricted—journalists needed to apply for the entry, which might be granted by a random drawing. Spots had been designated by tape and stickers on the ground admonishing us to “Please maintain your distance.”
If solely folks did. Habits die arduous, and on the pool and gymnastics venues, journalists clumped collectively as they all the time needed to ask questions and snag quotes when athletes stopped by.
And it solely obtained worse because the Video games wore on. If Tokyo organizing officers had been anxious about international vacationers importing COVID-19, they had been lacking a possible sizzling spot of transmission proper underneath their noses.
A pandemic doesn’t cease the necessity to validate credentials and to be on the alert for fraudsters, and I’m all for remaining vigilant on that entrance. The drawback is, it’s not straightforward to confirm folks identifies when everyone seems to be carrying a mask. So in fact you ask them to take the masks off. In Tokyo, the verification at each venue includes scanning the credential and sticking your face near a digicam embedded in a stand-up kiosk.
The digicam, nonetheless, doesn’t get triggered until your face is actually near the digicam. This implies in the event you’re getting into a well-liked occasion and queuing up, your face—with no masks—is in the identical place that another person’s face—additionally with no masks—has been simply seconds earlier than.
This wouldn’t hassle me a lot if it weren’t additionally the case that medalists should put their very own medals around their necks to keep away from shutting contact, nonetheless transient, with presenters. When you’re going to ask folks to keep away from shutting contact, then ask them to keep away from shutting contact in each state of affairs doable? I discovered myself aiming for the kiosks that hadn’t scanned anybody up to now few seconds.
All of this isn’t meant to say that the COVID-19 mitigation measures didn’t work; by and enormous, they did—in response to Tokyo organizers, by means of Aug. 4, greater than 570,000 checks had been run amongst Olympic-related folks and 124 had been confirmed optimistic for a positivity price of 0.02%.
And I empathize with the herculean activity organizers had in pulling off these Video games. However some extra consistency in making use of the general public well-being rules which are efficient in controlling the unfold of COVID-19—like avoiding crowded locations, closed areas, and shut contact—might need to go a good distance towards even higher compliance and a fair decrease positivity price.
Hopefully, that will probably be a lesson realized the subsequent time this occurs once more—in six months in Beijing, for the 2022 Winter Olympics.