Japan Asked to Cancel Olympics By Thousands of Medical Workers Who Fear Health System Collapse

A Japanese medical association has asked officials to cancel the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics over fears that holding the games will overwhelm the country's medical systems.

The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, made up of over 6,000 medical professionals, sent the letter last week, but made the document publicly available in recent days.

The letter from the group was sent to Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa, and Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the organizing committee, expressing its concerns.

"Viruses are spread by people's movements. Japan will hold a heavy responsibility if the Olympics and Paralympics work to worsen the pandemic, increasing the number of those who must suffer and die," the letter said. It also warned that the country is currently in the fourth, and worst, wave of COVID-19 with some hospitals at capacity for ability to treat patients.

"The medical systems responding to COVID-19 are stretched thin, almost to their limits. The reality is that the entire medical system faces an almost insurmountable hardship in trying our best to respond with coronavirus measures," the letter added.

Most of Japan is under a state of emergency declaration due to the latest virus wave, including Tokyo and other states where Olympic events are scheduled to be held.

Protester against Tokyo Olympics
People take part in a protest against the hosting of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games in front of the headquarters building of the Japanese Olympic Committee in Tokyo on May 18, 2021. KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting by the associated press see below.

Confronted by some of the strongest medical-community opposition yet to the Tokyo Olympics, IOC President Thomas Bach offered Wednesday to have added medical personnel available to help out when the games open in just over nine weeks.

Bach few details, speaking remotely at the opening of three days of meetings between the International Olympic Committee and local organizers. He said the help would come from various national Olympic committees and be available in the Olympic village and sports venues.

In his 12-minute address, Bach attempted to assure the Japanese public and athletes coming to Tokyo that the IOC will hold "safe and secure" Olympics in the midst of the pandemic.

"For obvious reasons, we cannot give them (athletes) every detail yet, but the most important principle is very clear: the Olympic Village is a safe place and the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be organized in a safe way," Bach said.

Bach said he anticipated more than 80% of those staying in the Olympic Village would be vaccinated. Reports locally say that Japan's Olympic delegation will begin getting vaccinated in June.

Bach appeared to be responding to one of the strongest demands so far to call off the postponed Olympics.

Opposition to the Olympics is running at 60-80% in numerous polls, depending on how the question is phrased.

The Olympics are to open on July 23. The Paralympics follow on Aug. 24. They are a financial imperative for the IOC, which derives about 75% of its incomes from selling television rights and another 18% from sponsorship.

Japan has officially spent $15.4 billion or organize the Olympics, although government audits suggest the figure is much higher.

There is no indication the games will be canceled, though opposition continues with small street protests and online petition drives. Last month the British Medical Journal came out against holding the Olympics and many local scientists have voiced their opposition.

Japan has attributed more than 11,500 deaths to COVID-19, good by some standards but worse than most Asian neighbors.

Bach said hundreds of sports events have been held safely during the pandemic, and cited recent test events in Tokyo that came off without many problems.

"None of these test events was a virus spreader for the Japanese people or the people of Tokyo," he said.

Tokyo organizers have said about 10,000 medical personnel will be needed during the Olympics. They have also asked for 500 extra nurses, and 200 sports medicine specialists.

Several prefectures near Tokyo have said they will not give priority to treating Olympic athletes, and many towns in Japan have canceled plans to host foreign delegations.

"The doctors and nurses of the medical system who are being asked to respond are already at this point exhausted, and there is absolutely no extra manpower or facility for treatment," the letter added.

Fans from abroad have already been banned, and Olympic organizers are expected to announce next month if local fans can attend in limited numbers — or not at all.

The Olympics and Paralympics will involve 15,000 athletes and tens of thousands of others entering Japan, which has had its borders virtually sealed for more than a year.

Demonstration against 2020 Olympics
In this May 17, 2021, file photo, demonstrators protest against the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The IOC and Tokyo Olympic organizers start three days of virtual meetings Wednesday, May 19, 2021 and will run into some of the strongest medical-community opposition so far with the games set to open in just over eight weeks. Koji Sasahara, File/AP Photo