Love the Olympics? You’re in luck. Japan says this year’s summer Olympic games will go ahead as planned despite concerns over the coronavirus. However, this year’s festivities come with a catch: In order to host the games, Japan is asking 500 nurses to volunteer their services.
Japan is currently facing its fourth wave of COVID-19. Hospitals and medical facilities are overrun in certain parts of the region. So, when the government asked 500 nurses to suit up for the Olympics, people were less than enthusiastic.
What Does It Take to Host the Olympics?
The Tokyo Olympic Games were supposed to happen last summer, but the pandemic forced organizers to reschedule. But now, this year’s ceremony is in doubt as Japan gets ready to host one of the biggest events in the world in the middle of a pandemic.
The situation continues to worsen across the country, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and organizers are committed to moving forward with this year’s festivities.
Officials say around 10,000 healthcare workers are needed for the Olympics, which will take place during the hottest time of the year. To make ends meet, organizers recently asked the Japanese Nursing Association to send 500 of its finest healthcare workers to the event.
The request was met with outrage, with many nurses saying they were too busy to work the games. A local federation of healthcare unions tweeted out its opposition to the request.
Susumu Morita, secretary general of the Japan Federation of Medical Workers’ Unions, responded with, “We must stop the proposal to send nurses who are engaged in the fight against a serious coronavirus pandemic to volunteer at the Olympics. I am furious at the insistence on staging the Olympics despite the risk to patients’ and nurses’ health and lives.”
Poor Timing and Bad Planning
The healthcare community in Japan says the timing couldn’t be worse. Studies show just 2% of Japan’s population has received at least one shot of the two-dose coronavirus vaccine, one of the lowest rates in the developed world, and many nurses have yet to receive their first shot.
Mikito Ikeda, a nurse in the central city of Nago, was less than thrilled with the idea of working the Olympics. “Beyond feeling anger, I was stunned at the insensitivity. It shows how human life is being taken lightly.”
Prime minister Yoshihide Suga only made matters worse when he suggested that nurses taking time off due to exhaustion and burnout could enlist to work the event. “I hear many are taking time off, and so it should be possible,” he said last week.
The backlash came fast and swift.
Former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama tweeted back, “Now people in Japan are barely getting by, wondering if they will die from the coronavirus or as a result of the economic slump. And Osaka and other places are asking for nurses to help out. Don’t we need nurses to work at vaccination centres?”
Osaka has become the epicenter of the country’s fourth wave. Hospitals there have run out of beds for seriously ill patients, forcing many to wait in ambulances for hours at a time until they are allowed to come inside.
Despite the criticisms, PM Suga insisted that Japan was ready to host the games in just 81 days. But public health experts say otherwise. A recent article in the British Medical Journal asked the prime minister to “reconsider” his decision. The authors make it clear that “international mass gathering events…are still neither safe nor secure”.
Japan recently surpassed a total of 10,000 COVID-19 deaths, with 5,900 infections in a single day.
Suga even declared a state of emergency last month as variants of the virus continued to spread. He even went so far as to close restaurants that serve alcohol to limit the spread.
“It’s hard for any hospital to go without even one nurse, and they want 500,” Ikeda added. “Why do they think that’s even possible?”
Many say the prime minister’s request shows a disconnect between senior officials and what’s happening on the ground. The Olympics bring international prestige and economic opportunities, but it could also put thousands of lives at risk.
Haruo Ozaki, chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association, doesn’t think the event is a good idea. “We have heard enough of the spiritual argument about wanting the Games,” he said. “It is extremely difficult to hold the Games without increasing infections, both within and outside Japan.”
The public agrees. A recent survey shows around 80% of the population would like to see the games postponed again. Hosting the event would also cost taxpayers around $15.4 billion.
Opposition lawmaker Tomoko Tamura added, “The situation is extremely serious. Nurses don’t know how they can possibly take care of this situation. It is physically impossible.”