WHO Director: Olympics 'Mark of Success' Will Be Lowering COVID Spread, Not Zero Cases

The World Health Organization director general said the "mark of success" for Olympic officials should be to focus on limiting the spread of COVID-19 cases, rather than eliminating the risk altogether.

"The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible and onward transmission is interrupted," WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the International Olympic Committee. "The mark of success in the coming fortnight is not zero cases."

Several thletes both home and abroad have tested positive for COVID-19 already, meaning the Olympics cannot aim for zero cases. Measures have been taken to limit the spread of the disease, including a ban on spectators in the Olympic venues.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Olympic Temperature Scans
People pass through a temperature scanner as they enter the Tokyo Olympic stadium on July 21, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the goal for Olympic officials should be to limit the spread of the virus, rather than aiming for zero cases. Carl Court/Getty Images

The number of Games-linked COVID-19 cases in Japan this month was 79 on Wednesday, with more international athletes testing positive at home and unable to travel.

Tedros noted the athletes who already tested positive in Japan, including at the athletes village in Tokyo Bay, where most of the 11,000 competitors will stay.

Teammates classed as close contacts of infected athletes can continue training and preparing for events under a regime of isolation and extra monitoring.

Health experts in Japan have warned of the Olympics becoming a "super-spreader" event bringing tens of thousands of athletes, officials and workers during a local state of emergency.

"There is no zero risk in life," said Tedros, who began his keynote speech minutes after the first softball game began in Fukushima, and added Japan was "giving courage to the whole world."

The WHO leader also had a more critical message and a challenge for leaders of richer countries about sharing vaccines more fairly in the world.

"The pandemic is a test and the world is failing," Tedros said, predicting more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 worldwide before the Olympic flame goes out in Tokyo on Aug. 8.

It was a "horrifying injustice," he said, that 75 percent of the vaccine shots delivered globally so far were in only 10 countries.

Tedros warned anyone who believed the pandemic was over because it was under control in their part of the world lived in "a fool's paradise."

The world needs to produce 11 billion doses next year and the WHO wanted governments to help reach a target of vaccinating 70% of people in every country by the middle of next year.

"The pandemic will end when the world chooses to end it," Tedros said. "It is in our hands."

Who Director General
In this Monday, May 24, 2021 file photo, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), speaks at the WHO headquarters, in Geneva, Switzerland. Tedros told the International Olympic Committee the goal of the Olympics should be to limit the spread of COVID-19 cases rather than aiming to eliminate them altogether. Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP, File