Protecting Olympic Participants from Covid-19 — The Urgent Need for a Risk-Management Approach


In late July, roughly 11,000 athletes and 4000 athletic-support workers from greater than 200 international locations will collect for greater than 2 weeks of competitors on the Tokyo Olympics. One month later, one other 5000 athletes and extra workers will attend the Paralympics. Based on the Worldwide Olympic Committee (IOC) Tokyo 2020 playbooks,1 that are meant to guard each members and the folks of Japan from SARS-CoV-2 an infection, Olympic athletes are instructed to produce their very own face coverings, are inspired (however not required) to be vaccinated in opposition to Covid-19, and can endure testing at unspecified intervals after they arrive in Japan.

When the IOC postponed the Tokyo Olympics in March 2020, Japan had 865 energetic circumstances of Covid-19 in opposition to a world backdrop of 385,000 energetic circumstances. It was assumed that the pandemic could be managed in 2021 or that vaccination could be widespread by then. Fourteen months later, Japan is in a state of emergency, with 70,000 energetic circumstances. Globally, there are 19 million energetic circumstances. Variants of concern, which can be extra transmissible and extra virulent than the unique pressure of SARS-CoV-2, are circulating broadly. Vaccines can be found in some international locations, however lower than 5% of Japan’s inhabitants is vaccinated, the bottom price amongst all Group of Financial Cooperation and Growth international locations.

Pfizer and BioNTech have provided to donate vaccines for all Olympic athletes, however this provide doesn’t be certain that all athletes will obtain vaccines earlier than the Olympics, since vaccine authorization and availability are missing in additional than 100 international locations. Furthermore, some athletes might select to not be vaccinated due to worries in regards to the results of vaccination on their efficiency or moral issues about being prioritized forward of well being care staff and susceptible folks. Though a number of international locations have vaccinated their athletes, adolescents between 15 and 17 years of age can’t be vaccinated in most international locations, and kids youthful than 15 could be vaccinated in even fewer international locations. Consequently, few teenage athletes, together with gymnasts, swimmers, and divers as younger as 12, shall be vaccinated. Within the absence of standard testing, members might turn out to be contaminated through the Olympics and pose a danger once they return residence to greater than 200 international locations.

We consider the IOC’s dedication to proceed with the Olympic Video games isn’t knowledgeable by the perfect scientific proof. The playbooks preserve that athletes take part at their very own danger, whereas failing each to tell apart the varied ranges of danger confronted by athletes and to acknowledge the restrictions of measures comparable to temperature screenings and face coverings. Equally, the IOC has not heeded classes from different giant sporting occasions. Many U.S.-based skilled leagues, together with the Nationwide Soccer League (NFL), the Nationwide Basketball Affiliation, and the Girls’s Nationwide Basketball Affiliation, carried out profitable seasons, however their protocols have been rigorous and knowledgeable by an understanding of airborne transmission, asymptomatic unfold, and the definition of shut contacts.2 Preventive measures, tailored amid steady skilled evaluation, included single resort rooms for athletes, at the very least every day testing, and wearable know-how for monitoring contacts, supported by rigorous contact tracing. Regardless of more and more rigorous protocols, outbreaks of Covid-19 have brought on a number of recreation cancellations. The World Males’s Handball Championship, held in Egypt in January 2021, confirmed the boundaries of housing even two folks collectively when roommates have been each pressured out of video games after one examined optimistic. In February, the Australian Open was challenged by hotel-driven exposures and two native outbreaks. In early Might, the Indian Premier League cricket match was suspended in its third week.

The IOC’s playbooks1 aren’t constructed on scientifically rigorous danger evaluation, and so they fail to contemplate the methods during which publicity happens, the components that contribute to publicity, and which members could also be at highest danger. To make certain, most athletes are at low danger for critical well being outcomes related to Covid-19, however some Paralympic athletes could possibly be in a higher-risk class. As well as, we consider the playbooks don’t adequately defend the 1000’s of individuals — together with trainers, volunteers, officers, and transport and resort workers — whose work ensures the success of such a big occasion.

The World Well being Group (WHO) and the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention have each acknowledged the essential function of infectious-particle inhalation in person-to-person transmission of SARS-CoV-2.3,4 When planning any occasion, the primary job ought to contain figuring out the folks most vulnerable to being uncovered and the roles, actions, and areas for which publicity would be the highest. In terms of aerosol inhalation, a very powerful options of publicity are the focus of infectious particles within the air and the size of time spent involved with these particles. Focus of particles is determined by the variety of contaminated folks, the kind of exercise (i.e., the diploma to which it generates aerosols), the period of time that contaminated folks spend in a specific house, and the diploma of air flow. Over lengthy durations, bodily distancing performs a less-relevant function in enclosed areas, as particles turn out to be distributed all through the house.

We consider that the IOC’s playbooks ought to classify occasions as low, reasonable, or excessive danger relying on the exercise and the venue and may tackle variations amongst these classes. For instance, out of doors occasions for which opponents are naturally spaced out, comparable to crusing, archery, and equestrian occasions, could also be thought of low danger. Different out of doors sports activities for which shut contact is unavoidable, comparable to rugby, hockey (area hockey), and soccer (soccer), could possibly be thought of reasonable danger. Sports activities which can be held in indoor venues and require shut contact, comparable to boxing and wrestling, are most likely excessive danger. Any sport that takes place indoors — even when athletes compete individually, as they do in gymnastics — will pose a higher danger than out of doors occasions. Protocols for retaining athletes and everybody else concerned protected might fluctuate on the idea of those danger ranges.

The playbooks might additionally tackle variations amongst venues, together with noncompetition areas. Smaller, enclosed areas the place many athletes congregate, together with stadiums, buses, and cafeterias, are higher-risk settings than out of doors areas. Accommodations are prone to be high-risk areas, in gentle of shut contact in shared rooms (three athletes per room shall be commonplace), eating areas, and different widespread areas and insufficient air flow programs that have been designed earlier than the pandemic.

As a result of folks with Covid-19 could be infectious 48 hours earlier than they develop signs (and should not develop signs in any respect), routine temperature and symptom screening won’t be efficient for figuring out presymptomatic or asymptomatic folks. Polymerase-chain-reaction testing, at the very least as soon as (if not twice) per day, is finest observe, because the NFL expertise reveals.2 The IOC plans to offer each athlete with a smartphone that has necessary contact-tracing and health-reporting apps. Contact-tracing apps are sometimes ineffective, nonetheless, and only a few Olympic athletes will compete carrying a cell phone. Proof means that wearable gadgets with proximity sensors are more practical than such apps.

Comparability of Greatest Practices to Defend Public and Athlete Well being with the IOC’s Present Plan.

We suggest that the WHO instantly convene an emergency committee that features specialists in occupational security and well being, constructing and air flow engineering, and infectious-disease epidemiology, in addition to athlete representatives, to contemplate these components and advise on a risk-management method for the Tokyo Olympics (see desk). There’s precedent for such an method: the WHO convened an emergency committee to offer steerage forward of the Olympic and Paralympic Video games in Brazil through the Zika virus Public Well being Emergency of Worldwide Concern in 2016.5

A world well being safety technique depends on understanding the interconnectedness amongst international locations. If our expertise going through Covid-19 represents a second of reality, it additionally gives an unequalled alternative for the conclusion of human values and collective human pursuits — the world’s new contract — and for making ready to defeat future threats. With lower than 2 months till the Olympic torch is lit, canceling the Video games often is the most secure possibility. However the Olympic Video games are one of many few occasions that might join us at a time of world disconnect. The Olympic spirit is unparalleled in its energy to encourage and mobilize. We rally across the torch as a result of we acknowledge the worth of the issues that join us over the worth of the issues that separate us. For us to attach safely, we consider pressing motion is required for these Olympic Video games to proceed.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here