Over the previous 18 months, I’ve written in regards to the devastating influence of COVID-19 on hospitals, well being care staff and households the world over. I’ve chronicled the efforts of drugmakers racing to formulate new therapies 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 1000’s of journalists, athletes and their assist workers converge on a densely populated metropolis like Tokyo, to placed on one thing just like the Olympics, which is about every part that pandemic insurance policies usually are not? The Video games are about bringing individuals collectively, actually and figuratively; retaining a fast-moving virus at bay is all in regards to the reverse.
It was clear that infections would occur on the Olympics; it will simply be a matter of selecting them up as shortly as doable and isolating any constructive instances 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 might be a possible virus provider. That’s the primary of many inconsistencies of those pandemic Olympics. On condition that anyplace from 80% to 90% of the arrival journalists from exterior of the nation have 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 individuals in Tokyo—the place new infections have 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 threat to Olympic athletes and journalists than we’d to the residents of Tokyo?
Everybody that was a part of the Olympic group needed to get examined frequently—day by day for athletes and their assist workers, and each 4 days for media. As well as, Olympic organizers created unfastened bubbles of containment meant to maintain Olympic vacationers as faraway from the Japanese populace as doable.
All of this regarded nice on paper within the numerous 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 have been, to say the least, baffling. Whereas the bubble didn’t fairly burst, it was leaky at finest. Right here’s why.
1. Airport processing
It took my colleague Sean Gregory and me seven hours to go away 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 varied assessments which have been developed and authorised now by the U.S. Meals and Drug Administration and by the World Well being Group, I do know there are saliva-based assessments that take an hour or so to provide outcomes. So what took our spit check so lengthy? No rationalization; some journalists arriving on completely different flights obtained their leads to an hour, whereas nonetheless others have been additionally saved on the airport for seven hours, ready. If the identical lab or labs have been used, and the identical sort 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 completely different international locations are seen throughout their management course of to obtain their accreditation playing cards upon their COVID-19 check outcomes following their arrival to Haneda Worldwide Airport after their related flights from Istanbul Worldwide Airport for the Tokyo Olympic Video games, in Tokyo, Japan on July 18, 2021.
Elif Ozturk Ozgoncu—Anadolu Company through Getty Photographs
Most of these seven hours ready have been spent in a lounge with no social distancing (and no meals; we may solely drink water, in case we had to offer one other saliva pattern if the outcomes have 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 have been masked, and so have been all of the volunteers, however nonetheless. We have been requested to offer the identical paper paperwork at the very least eight instances—which meant at the very least eight completely well mannered and well-intentioned completely different individuals touched the identical piece of paper and handed it again to us. This, although we have been additionally required to obtain an app that contained the entire similar data on the paper, besides in digital kind. Which might have been a safer method to course of 1000’s of individuals throughout an infectious illness outbreak—at the very least in my view. Once more, baffling.
2. Testing and monitoring
The playbooks outlining the entire procedures for retaining COVID-19 beneath management targeted closely on common saliva-based testing. Nevertheless, given the sheer variety of individuals being examined, and the frequency of testing, it was unmonitored. At the very least one colleague misunderstood the process—you’re alleged to register every pattern and provides every pattern a novel barcode quantity from a set of stickers you’re supplied; 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 have been supposed to watch all members of their group spit into the tubes supplied to confirm the validity of the samples. However with completely different members in numerous inns and with completely different schedules, how is that doable or reasonable? I’m prepared to guess most individuals spit into their tubes within the privateness of their very own bogs. I gained’t even speculate about individuals who might need, shall we embrace, “manipulated” their samples for the sake of comfort.
3. The lodge
With all of the warnings about COVID-19 restrictions and different pandemic-related protocols and procedures, I anticipated our lodge 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 round Tokyo streets, and no mingling with the Japanese inhabitants in eating places, bars or different institutions. For journalists, that meant we may solely depart our inns 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 ramen). As a result of, after all, we have been quarantined, however our inns solely served breakfast and didn’t present lunch or dinner.
So think about my shock after I noticed, all through my complete keep, non-Olympic company on the lodge—they actually out-numbered the Olympic ones. I noticed them at breakfast—we shared the identical air area, indoors, and stood behind one another in line for juice and occasional. If Olympic officers have been so intent on retaining international guests in a bubble to stop them from importing the virus and spreading it within the nation, why enable them to remain along with Japanese residents and threat exposing them? Actually, 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; choose 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?
In no way, apparently. Earlier than the Video games even formally started, buses carted 1000’s of journalists from the press middle 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 may sit in their very own row and apply social distancing. As soon as the Ceremony was over, the buses returning media to the press middle have 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 scenario, and the Worldwide Olympic Committee had this to say: “We’re conscious of the considerations across the media transport and are talking to the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee with the intention to assist them to resolve the scenario.”
Members of the media on a packed media bus in Tokyo forward of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Video games in Japan. Image date: Friday July 23, 2021.
Danny Lawson—PA Photographs through Getty Photographs
5. The combined zone
Ah, the combined zone, that mad crush of journalists ready in what quantities to an enclosed pen, normally within the bowels of an area, for athletes to swing by and style them with a quote or two. Media have been warned that combined zone entry in Tokyo could be restricted—journalists needed to apply for entry, which might be granted by a random drawing. Spots have been designated by tape and stickers on the ground admonishing us to “Please hold your distance.”
If solely individuals did. Habits die arduous, and on the pool and gymnastics venues, journalists clumped collectively as they at all times 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 have been frightened about international vacationers importing COVID-19, they have been lacking a possible sizzling spot of transmission proper beneath 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. Drawback is, it’s not simple to confirm individuals’s identifies when everyone seems to be carrying a masks. So after all you ask them to take the masks off. In Tokyo, the verification at each venue entails scanning the credential and sticking your face near a digital camera embedded in a stand-up kiosk. The digital camera, nonetheless, doesn’t get triggered until your face is actually near the digital camera. This implies in case you’re getting into a preferred occasion and queuing up, your face—and not using a masks—is in the identical place that another person’s face—additionally and not using a masks—has been simply seconds earlier than. This wouldn’t trouble me a lot if it weren’t additionally the case that medalists need to put their very own medals round their necks to keep away from shut contact, nonetheless temporary, with presenters. Should you’re going to ask individuals to keep away from shut contact, then ask them to keep away from shut contact in each scenario doable? I discovered myself aiming for the kiosks that hadn’t scanned anybody previously 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 line with Tokyo organizers, by means of Aug. 4, greater than 570,000 assessments have been run amongst Olympic-related individuals and 124 have been confirmed constructive for a positivity charge of 0.02%. And I empathize with the herculean job organizers had in pulling off these Video games. However some extra consistency in making use of the general public well being rules which might be efficient in controlling the unfold of COVID-19—like avoiding crowded locations, closed areas and shut contact—might need gone a good distance towards even higher compliance and an excellent decrease positivity charge.
Hopefully, that might be a lesson realized the subsequent time this occurs once more—in six months in Beijing, for the 2022 Winter Olympics.