What we know about COVID-19, protocols, vaccine plan at Tokyo Olympics

After years of planning, at least $15.4 billion in organizing costs, a global pandemic and a one-year postponement, the 2020 Tokyo Games are once again – finally – just around the corner.

The opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics is exactly 100 days away, with competition set to run from July 23 to Aug. 8. The Paralympics are slated to follow shortly thereafter, from Aug. 24 to Sept. 5.

Yet as the Games approach, there are still several outstanding questions and concerns, particularly involving COVID-19 and the international rollout of vaccines.

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Here’s a quick look at where things stand, with 100 days to go.

What’s the COVID-19 situation in Tokyo?

A general view shows the Olympic rings in front of the National Stadium, main venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Japan has reported fewer than 9,500 total deaths due to COVID-19 as of Wednesday – a fraction of the more than 557,000 that have died in the United States. But it has also been behind the curve in its vaccine rollout, which is notable with the Game so near.

According to The Japan Times, 1.1 million Japanese residents had received at least one shot as of Friday – less than 1 percent of the population. The country didn’t begin to offer vaccines for seniors, who make up approximately 29% of the Japanese population, until Monday. And it is unlikely that vaccines will be widely available to the general public until late this summer.

The U.S., by contrast, has been vaccinating its elderly populations for months. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 47% of the adult population has now received at least one vaccine dose.

Meanwhile, cases have surged in Japan since early March amid fears of a fourth wave. In Tokyo, the local government recently enacted tougher COVID-19 countermeasures, which will run through May 11. And the country reported more than 3,300 new cases in the past 24 hours, according to the World Health Organization.

How do Japanese residents feel about the Olympics occurring?

Polls from Japanese news outlets indicate that they’re skeptical.

In a recent poll conducted by Japanese news agency Kyodo News on Monday, about 72% of respondents said they believe the Games should either be canceled (39.2%) or rescheduled (32.8%). Roughly 25% told the news agency that they would like to see the Games held as scheduled.

Will athletes have to be vaccinated?

No. The International Olympic Committee has said it will not require athletes to be vaccinated prior to competing this summer, though IOC president Thomas Bach has strongly encouraged athletes to take them.

“(We’ve) made it clear from the very beginning that we would not impose any obligation for vaccination,” Bach said last month. “And we have also from the very beginning stated that we will work with the (national Olympic committees) to get as many as possible of the participants being vaccinated – but always within the relevant national guidelines.”

The IOC has also entered into an agreement with the Chinese Olympic committee to purchase and provide vaccine doses for participants in the upcoming Games.

What other COVID-19 protocols will be in place at the Games?

Local organizers have released a series of COVID-19 “playbooks” for various groups of attendees at the Games, including athletes, media members and volunteers. They are expected to release updated versions of those protocols as the Games approach.

While some of the specifics have yet to be finalized, the IOC has already mandated shorter stays for athletes in the Olympic Village and indicated that countermeasures such as COVID-19 testing will be prevalent across the board.

The opening and closing ceremonies will also likely be downsized to prevent the type of massive in-person gathering that could potentially contribute to the spread of the disease.

What does this mean for Team USA?

U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee officials have said they will abide by organizers’ playbooks, and any rules stipulated by the Japanese government. But they will also implement their own countermeasures on top of that.

The USOPC, like the IOC, has also strongly encouraged athletes to get vaccinated, though it said it is not tracking which athletes – or how many – are inoculated prior to the Games. At a three-day media event last week, the majority of U.S. athletes made available to reporters indicated that they have either already received at least one vaccine dose or plan to get the vaccine prior to competition.

Will fans be allowed at the Games?

Organizers have announced that international fans will not be permitted to attend the Olympics, which will both dramatically alter the vibe of the Games and deliver a significant blow to the Japanese tourism industry. The USOPC has indicated that this decision will also preclude U.S. athletes from competing in front of friends and family.

There will likely still be some Japanese fans in the stands, but the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organizing committee have yet to announce crowd capacity limits for Olympic venues.

Will the Tokyo Olympics happen?

This, of course, is the multi-billion-dollar question. Some public health experts and scientists have long expressed concerns about the Games and remain worried that the event could contribute to the spread of COVID-19, either globally or in Japan.

“It is best to not hold the Olympics given the considerable risks,” Norio Sugaya, an infectious diseases expert at Keiyu Hospital in Japan, told The Associated Press.

Olympic organizers, meanwhile, have declined to even entertain the idea that the Games will not take place as scheduled.

“We are not speculating (on) whether the Games are taking place,” Bach said in January. “We are working on how the Games will take place.”

Contributing: Chris Bumbaca; The Associated Press

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

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