— Published 27 April 2021

Health and transport, the impossible equation of the Tokyo Games

Time passes, but the questions remain for the organisers of the Tokyo Games. With less than 90 days of opening, nothing is easy. Even, come on, everything seems to get complicated with the new wave of COVID-19 and the state of emergency established in the Japanese capital.

Toshiro Muto, the managing director of the organising committee, explained Monday, April 26th, at the end of a meeting of the board of directors: “We formed a group of experts of six people, to accompany us in the implementation of measures in place to combat the spread of COVID-19. We will listen to their advice and work with them to ensure that the Games are safe and secure“.

The six experts in question, presented as infectious disease specialists, will meet for the first time on April 30th. They are then expected to meet for at least four meetings before the Olympics. With less than three months to go for the opening ceremony, it might not be too late to gather them around a table. But the initiative may seem late.

Pretty good news, then. For the rest, the weather remains cloudy.

A few hours before a videoconference meeting with the IOC, the IPC, the metropolitan government and that of Japan, scheduled for Wednesday, April 28th, the organisers have launched a new pavement in the pond. They said they had asked for help from 500 Japanese medics for the Games.

In itself, nothing very unexpected. But the announcement comes at a critical time in the health crisis in Japan, when the medical community is under extreme strain by the surge in COVID-19 cases.

Toshiro Muto said Monday, April 26th, to the media: “It goes without saying that regional health services should not be disrupted” because of this demand. Naturally. But it appears very difficult, in the current situation, to mobilise 500 nurses for the Games without weakening the medical system.

In Japan, the announcement of the managing director of the organising committee has fueled social media, where critics have not spared the organisers. On Twitter, the phrase “demand for 500 nurses” took pride of place on Monday’s most commented topics of the day.

Another pending file, transport. The Japanese daily Yomiuri Shimbun opened it wide this week as part of a series of topics on key issues in preparing for the Games in the midst of a health crisis. And discovered that the questions often went unanswered.

Originally, a battalion of 5 500 vehicles, the vast majority of which were buses, had been booked for the Tokyo Games. The initial transport plan prepared by the organisers provided that certain categories of accredited individuals, the media in particular, would use public transport from the hotels.

Since then, the pandemic has changed the situation. In its series of guides, the playbooks, published last February, the organisers specify that public transport will no longer be allowed.

Question: will the number of official vehicles be sufficient? “If we respond to all requests (athletes, officials, media …), no matter how many vehicles we have, there would not be enough“, replied a manager of the organising committee.

The organisers had at one time considered halving the capacity of official vehicles, to allow social distancing between passengers. But it was abandoned because it would have forced the vehicle battalion to overtake.

Instead, the organisers opted for a lighter device: wearing a mask is compulsory, plus instructions for all passengers to refrain from speaking.