Tokyo seeks 10,000 medical staff for Olympics despite virus surge

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FILE PHOTO: A man wears a protective mask amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in front of the giant Olympic rings in Tokyo, Japan, January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

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Japan’s government said Tuesday it still planned to recruit 10,000 medical personnel for the virus-delayed Olympics, despite the heavy strain on the healthcare system caused by a third wave of infections.

Opposition politicians grilled the government over the plans in parliament, as medical associations raised the alarm about dwindling capacity.

Japan’s government and Olympic officials have insisted the Games will open as scheduled this July, despite rising infections at home and abroad, and sinking domestic support.

And in parliament on Tuesday, Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto said the government was still committed to a plan to secure thousands of medical staff for the Games.

“We are trying to secure necessary medical staff of around 10,000, on the premise of asking doctors and nurses that each of them work about five days during the Games period,” she said.

Games organizers are still discussing the exact medical provisions needed and how to “deal with Covid-19 infections” at the delayed event, she told parliament.

Just six months before the huge international event is due to begin, Tokyo and other areas are under a state of emergency to tackle a record spike in Covid-19 cases.

Japan has been hit less hard than many other countries, with about 5,000 virus deaths overall, but doctors have warned medical facilities are at risk of collapse — especially if the Olympics triggers fresh outbreaks.

The worsened global virus situation has renewed doubts over the postponed 2020 Olympics, set to start in July, and polls indicate plunging public support in Japan.

In December, organizers announced safety measures including regular testing for athletes and an “infection control center” to deal with positive cases.

But the Japan Medical Association’s president raised the alarm last week over the possibility of overseas visitors coming for the Games.

DIFFICULT CONDITIONS

Toshio Nakagawa said that, under current conditions, it would be “impossible” to admit to hospital any foreign visitor who caught coronavirus at the Games.

Around 11,000 athletes from some 200 countries are expected to take part in the Games, but a decision on spectators is not expected before spring.

The International Olympic Committee has said it will encourage all athletes to be vaccinated, and on Monday, the president of the French National Olympic Committee warned unvaccinated athletes would face “extremely difficult” conditions in Japan, including a 14-day quarantine.

Vaccinations are not set to start in Japan until late February at the earliest.


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