EU to review safe travel list and may reconsider US status

Prior to the start of the Olympics, Japan feared that the 2020 Games, with thousands of officials, media and athletes descending to Tokyo amid a pandemic, would spread COVID-19, introduce new variants and overwhelm the medical system, write Kiyoshi Takenaka, Tim Kelly and Antoni Slodkowski.

But by the end of the Games, the number of infections coming from inside the Olympic “bubble” – a collection of venues, hotels and the media center in which those who came for the Games had mostly been confined – tells a different story.

With more than 50,000 people, what was perhaps the largest global experiment of its kind since the start of the pandemic, appears to have largely worked, according to organizers and some scientists, with only a fraction of those involved infected.

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“Before the Olympics, I thought people would come to Japan with many variations and that Tokyo would be a crucible of viruses and a new variation would emerge in Tokyo,” said Kei Sato, senior researcher at the University of Tokyo. .

“But there was no way the viruses could mutate.”

The main reason for the low number of infections was a vaccination rate of more than 70% among Olympians, organizers and the media, daily testing, social distancing and a ban on domestic and international spectators, according to organizers.

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Brian McCloskey, the senior “bubble” adviser to Olympic organizers, said he would not point to any specific measure that would work best.

“It’s a package, it’s the package that works the most effectively and I think that’s still going to be the message after these Games and that’s still the message regardless of vaccinations,” McCloskey said at a conference. press Saturday.

Organizers have recorded 404 Games-related infections since July 1. They performed nearly 600,000 screening tests with an infection rate of 0.02%.

The situation inside the “bubble” contrasted sharply with the outside, with a outbreak of infections fueled by the Delta variant break daily records and for the first time cross 5,000 in the host city, threatening to overwhelm Tokyo hospitals. Read more.

In the bubble, journalists, during their two-week quarantine, had to report their temperature and condition daily and download a contact tracing application. They were banned from public transport and masks at the media center were mandatory at all times.

There have been no serious cases of COVID-19 in the Olympic Village, said McCloskey, where more than 10,000 athletes stayed during the Games, sometimes two per room.

While McCloskey said more research needed to be done, he said that at present, the “belief” of experts is that infections among foreign visitors to the bubble are being brought into the country rather than locally.

McCloskey echoed Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga by saying he didn’t think the Games had contributed to the spike in infections in Tokyo.

He said that “the closer someone was to the athletes and to the interface between the international community and the Japanese national community, the more they were tested.”

“And it is this protection of the link between this interface, between the international and the national, that gives us the confidence to say that there has not been a spread between the two,” said McCloskey.

Some experts, such as Koji Wada, professor of public health at the Tokyo International University of Health and Welfare, said it was too early to draw conclusions about the direct impact of the Games on the spread of the disease. virus in the city.

But Wada and others said the Games undermined public messaging, with authorities urging people to stay in their homes to avoid contact with others, as athletes shouted, hugged and patted their backs during competitions. .

Health data collected during the two weeks of the Games, including inside the Athletes’ Village, would be analyzed and published so that countries can use it to help plan their responses to the coronavirus, McCloskey said.

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