Summer Sports

Olympic Village COVID-19 infection bubble already 'broken,' says public health expert

The so-called bubble to control COVID-19 infections at the Olympic Athlete's Village in Tokyo is already "broken" and poses a risk of spreading infections to the general populace, a prominent public health expert said on Tuesday.

58 cases among athletes, officials, journalists reported since July 2

Canada's team arrives at the Olympic Village on Sunday. One public health expert says the Olympic bubble has already been broken with 58 cases reported among athletes, officials and journalists since July 2. (Kyodo News via AP)

The so-called bubble to control COVID-19 infections at the Olympic Athlete's Village in Tokyo is already "broken" and poses a risk of spreading infections to the general populace, a prominent public health expert said on Tuesday.

Games officials on Sunday reported the first COVID-19 case among competitors in the athletes' village in Tokyo where 11,000 athletes are expected to stay. Since July 2, Tokyo 2020 organizers have reported 58 positive cases among athletes, officials and journalists.

"It's obvious that the bubble system is kind of broken," said Kenji Shibuya, the former director of the Institute for Population Health at King's College London.

"My biggest concern is, of course, there will be a cluster of infections in the village or some of the accommodation and interaction with local people."

Insufficient testing at the border and the impossibility of controlling people's movements mean that the Games could exacerbate the spread of the infectious Delta variant of the virus, he added.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said last week that testing and quarantine protocols would leave "zero" risk of Games participants infecting residents in Japan.

Declarations like that only serve to confuse and anger people, Shibuya said, as actual conditions on the ground are "totally opposite."

In April, Shibuya co-authored a commentary in the British Medical Journal that the Olympics must be "reconsidered" due to Japan's inability to contain coronavirus cases.

New COVID-19 cases in Tokyo reached 1,410 on Saturday, a near six month high, while the Games are due to start in just three days.

WATCH | Bach adamant virus won't spread to Japanese citizens:

IOC's Bach says 'zero' risk of COVID spreading from participants

2 months ago
0:44
IOC president Thomas Bach speaks about the Olympic's COVID-19 protocols, saying the Japanese public is at no risk from Olympic participants. 0:44
Public health experts have warned that seasonal factors, increased mobility and the spread of the delta variant could lead to a surge past 2,000 cases per day in Tokyo by next month, levels that could drive the city's medical system to a breaking point.

Just 33 per cent of people in Japan have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, among the lowest rate among wealthy countries, according to a Reuters tracker. The vaccination push has gained steam since last month, but recently ebbed due to supply and logistical snags.

By contrast, Soma City in the northern prefecture of Fukushima where Shibuya headed its vaccination efforts recently completed the bulk of its inoculations, far ahead of most of Japan.

WATCH | COVID-19 fears rise as Tokyo Olympics nearing:

COVID-19 fears rise as Tokyo Olympics get closer

2 months ago
3:13
COVID-19 fears are rising as athletes and staff from around the world pour into Tokyo for the Olympic Games. Five days before the opening ceremony, cases are rising in Japan and protests are getting louder. 3:13

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