The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, finally kicked off Wednesday. While the Games may represent a return to some sort of normal, this year’s event is anything but. The sport will present a welcome distraction to the ongoing global crisis. But World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged us not to forget our reality. “By the time the Olympic flame is extinguished on the eighth of August, more than 100,000 more people will perish,” Tedros, who is in Tokyo for the Games, said on Wednesday. “The pandemic is a test, and the world is failing,” he said, adding that anyone who thinks the pandemic is over is living in a “fool’s paradise.”
The WHO chief’s comments come as cases continue to surge globally, including in Japan, where Tokyo on Wednesday reported its highest daily increase of new infections since mid-January. Despite the country’s struggle to rein in cases, Tokyo 2020 organizers have decided to push ahead. But with just two days until the Olympics’ formal opening ceremony on Friday, it is still unclear whether the public health measures in place will be enough to prevent the Games from becoming a global superspreader event.
Some 11,000 athletes from 200 countries are set to arrive for the Olympics and the number of cases in Japan linked to the Games now stands at 79, according to organizers. Five of them are Olympic Village residents, three of which are athletes. Competitors including US gymnast Kara Eaker, basketball player Katie Lou Samuelson and tennis star Coco Gauff member tested positive for Covid prior to arriving in Tokyo, cutting their Olympic dreams short.
Opinion polls in Japan show that most people oppose holding a major sporting event during a public health crisis. Tokyo extended its coronavirus state of emergency until August 22, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) barring fans from attending the competition — an Olympic first.
The United States also renewed its public health emergency on Tuesday, underlining the severity of the pandemic’s trajectory there. Covid-19 cases — fueled by the fast-spreading Delta variant — have nearly tripled over the last three weeks, with at least 44 states now seeing an increase. The Delta variant represents the vast majority (83%) of new infections, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There’s a common theme behind the worsening Covid-19 numbers, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Walensky said at a Covid-19 briefing Friday. More than 97% of people getting hospitalized with the virus now are unvaccinated, she said. And 99% of deaths are among the unvaccinated, according to the US Surgeon General.
Meanwhile, vaccination rates in the US have stalled. Less than half of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, according to CDC data, and the majority of those who are not vaccinated are not at all likely to get their shots, according to a poll published Tuesday by Axios-Ipsos. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, warned this week that if those holding out on the vaccine don’t change their minds, the US can expect a “smoldering” outbreak for “a considerable period of time.”
The Dow suffered its biggest drop of the year on Monday, plunging by more than 700 points as fears over the Delta variant also hit Wall Street.
In the United Kingdom, where the Delta variant is dominant and cases and deaths are also on the rise, Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a gamble in lifting England’s final Covid restrictions on Monday, admitting that the move could lead to more fatalities.