Tokyo 2020, a global health effort that’s given hope to the world

09 Aug 2021
IOC News Tokyo 2020

An unprecedented global effort together with the resilience and determination of the Japanese people made it possible to deliver safe Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 that will leave a lasting legacy beyond sport.

A sign with Covid-19 countermeasures ©2021 Getty Images

One of the key learnings has been the progress made in the understanding of COVID-19 in the context of mass gathering events. This has been boosted by the collection of vital data and learnings throughout the duration of the Games.

During six weeks from 1 July, thousands of Games participants became the most tested community in the world. Athletes wearing masks at the venues became a familiar image, while physical distancing became the rule for interaction.

This was the end of a long journey to ensure the health of the Games participants and the people of Japan.

As Dr Brian McCloskey, Chair of the Tokyo 2020 Independent Expert Panel, noted during a press briefing at the end of the Games, “Since the beginning of the pandemic, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has emphasised that the way out of the pandemic is through applying public health and social measures, such as social distancing, wearing masks and hand hygiene.”

He continued, “Backing this up by an effective and comprehensive test, track and trace programme. This has been the view of the WHO since the beginning.”

Before concluding, “What Tokyo 2020 has just done in an historic way is show that the WHO advice is right. By following basic public health measures, and by layering a testing programme on top, we have shown that it is possible to keep a pandemic at bay.”

One of the most comprehensive screening testing initiatives in history, implemented by Tokyo 2020, carried out 651,296 tests from 1 July to 7 August. The local health authorities conducted another 42,711 tests at Tokyo’s main airports. The final updates will come in the next few days.

A staff member monitors peoples temperatures as they pass through a temperature scanner at the entrance to Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium A staff member monitors peoples temperatures - ©2021 Getty Images

The cumulative positivity rate among Games participants from 1 July to the end of the Games was 0.02 per cent, a level considered extremely low by health experts. At the airport, the COVID-19 early detection system worked as planned, with a positivity rate of just 0.09 per cent.

Tokyo 2020 set new benchmarks for the health management of mass gatherings, and its health data and statistics will benefit global knowledge and understanding of respiratory diseases.

The COVID-19 countermeasures developed by Tokyo 2020, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), in close collaboration with the Government of Japan and Tokyo Metropolitan Government, proved effective.

Members of the Medical Services team disinfect the mat and carry out anti-Covid measures Members of the Medical Services team disinfect the mat and carry out anti-Covid measures - ©2021 Getty Images

It was a collective effort. Before arriving in Japan, the athletes were tested at least twice. Then, they were tested at the airport upon arrival, and every day during their stay at the Olympic Village. For instance, if an athlete arrived in Tokyo on 18 July and left on 10 August, that person was tested at least 26 times.

The COVID-19 countermeasures were based on the extensive work of the All Partners Task Force and collaboration with scientific experts and organisations from across the world, including the WHO.

Sport-specific rules had to be developed to manage the impact of any confirmed positive COVID-19 cases on competition. The regulations mitigated any disruption in the sports schedule while protecting athletes and teams.

Lucas Saatkamp #16 of Team Brazil returns the ball while wearing a face mask Lucas Saatkamp of Team Brazil - ©2021 Getty Images

Additionally, a strict health protocol was put in place to handle athletes identified as close contacts, which demanded a big logistical effort led by Tokyo 2020. Each close contact was accommodated in a separate room and allowed to leave it only to train and compete at the venues. They had dedicated transport and daily nasopharyngeal PCR testing.     

All the venues and the Olympic Village had to be adapted to ensure that strict health protocols were followed.

The IOC Members and staff arrived in the country close to 100 percent vaccinated or immune. On top of that, 85 per cent of the residents at the Olympic Village were vaccinated, as well as between 70 and 80 per cent of the media representatives.

Judges wearing masks ©2021 Getty Images

The support of Pfizer-BioNTech and the efforts of the Japanese Government and the IOC led to the provision of vaccine doses for 40,000 Games participants from Japan, which were in addition to the vaccination supply in the country. All the Tokyo 2020 volunteers were offered the possibility to get vaccinated.

National Olympic Committees (NOCs) from all over the world responded to calls to get their athletes vaccinated ahead of Tokyo 2020. For example, the Pan American Sports Organisation offered vaccination to all qualified athletes and accredited officials in the Americas who had not yet been inoculated against COVID-19. Many NOCs secured vaccines for overseas athletes living in their territories through their national programmes.

Supported by a collective effort led by the people of Japan, the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 showed the world hope in the fight against COVID-19.

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