The Tokyo Olympics could generate a new strain of the novel coronavirus and endanger the lives of athletes and the local population, according to a Japanese physician Thursday.
Naoto Ueyama, the head of Japan Doctors’ Union, said at a Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan press conference the Summer Games could be the site of new infections, contradicting earlier claims made by members of the International Olympic Committee.
Ueyama said vaccines and virus testing would not prevent variants from spreading during the Olympics.
With “so many mutant varieties coming into one place one city,” there is an “opportunity for different strains to merge or fuse” to create a dangerous new variant, Ueyama said.
Japan is already struggling with a fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and local officials “cannot deny the possibility of even a new strain of the virus potentially emerging,” Ueyama said, according to Russia Today.
Uyema’s statements were carried in foreign media but were not included in major Japanese dailies Thursday.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has raised health concerns as the country copes with thousands of new cases daily, but he has not proposed canceling the Olympics, which would translate into massive losses, approximately billions of dollars, for the local economy.
Ueyama said the Japanese government is adhering to its difficult decision to hold the Games because they harbored a “naïve illusion” the event could symbolize victory over the pandemic.
The head of the Japan Doctors’ Union also said Japan ranks near the bottom among OECD countries in COVID-19 testing, a key to combating the pandemic and preventing the spread of the virus.
The IOC has defended their decision, citing “scientific evidence” that shows conditions are safe enough to host international athletes in Japan.
IOC member Dick Pound said this week the Olympics should be held even if Suga requests a cancellation.