A version of this story appeared in the May 25 edition of CNN’s Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction newsletter. Sign up here to receive the need-to-know headlines every weekday.
The US State Department on Monday urged citizens to avoid all travel to Japan, but officials insist it will not complicate preparations for the Tokyo Olympics, now just weeks away.
It’s the latest hurdle in a string of setbacks for the summer Games, which were postponed in 2020 during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Olympics, which are currently scheduled to run from July 23 to August 8, are looking increasingly untenable as Japan grapples with a new outbreak of the virus that is beginning to overwhelm hospitals. While cases surge, the country’s vaccine rollout is moving forward at a glacial pace due to a shortage of medical professionals and a lack of syringes – only about 2% of Japanese citizens have gotten at least one shot of a vaccine.
One Japanese athlete, 73-year-old table tennis Paralympic legend Kimie Bessho, known as “The Butterfly Lady” for her signature hair clips, says she’s been unable to get vaccinated and is risking her life to compete. “I don’t want to die of Covid. If I die, I want to die in a competition after a winning smash,” Bessho told CNN. “I won’t die a boring death, but I will make a big smash. My friends say they’ll decorate my coffin with many ping pong balls.”
There’s been mounting pressure to postpone the Games to save lives, with two major doctors’ associations warning that Japan’s healthcare system would not be able to cope with the medical needs of thousands of athletes, coaches and press on top of the existing surge in Covid-19 cases.
But Olympic officials still maintain the Games can be held safely and securely. “We feel confident that the current mitigation practices in place for athletes and staff … coupled with the testing before travel, on arrival in Japan, and during Games time, will allow for safe participation of Team USA athletes this summer,” the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee, which oversees Team USA, said in a statement hours after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discouraged even fully-vaccinated Americans from visiting Japan.
YOU ASKED. WE ANSWERED.
Q: What could happen if the Tokyo Olympics get canceled?
A: The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is entitled, per its contract with host city Tokyo, to terminate the contract on the grounds that “the safety of participants in the Games would be seriously threatened or jeopardized for any reason whatsoever.” Termination of the host city contract would see the risks and losses fall largely with the organizing committee, which is mandated to take out insurance for the Games – but there are also sponsorship contracts, broadcasting deals and hospitality liabilities to consider.
According to a Reuters report from January, insurers are facing a $2-3 billion loss if the Olympics are canceled, amounting to the largest ever claim in the global event cancellation market. And for organizers, the financial impact of canceling the Games, even with insurance payouts, could be considerable given that close to 75% of the IOC’s total funding comes from broadcasting rights.
Arguably, it would be the athletes who stand to miss out most from a canceled Olympics. World Athletics president Seb Coe told CNN that 70% of those chasing Olympic participation are only going to have one chance to compete at what is likely to be the pinnacle of their sporting careers. To cancel the Games, Coe said, would be to “discard a generation of athletes who have spent over half their young lives in pursuit of this one moment.”
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WHAT’S IMPORTANT TODAY
In push to vaccinate young adults, Biden and Fauci turn to YouTube stars
Vaccination badges for dating app users, free Uber rides to get a shot and now a Q&A with YouTube stars are among the latest strategies being deployed by the Biden administration to encourage younger adults to get vaccinated. On Monday, President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci fielded questions on everything from vaccination passports to advice for those who are fearful of getting a shot. The YouTube creators, a mix of beauty influencers and nature buffs whose combined following tops 27 million, were selected by the White House in a push to reach people in their late teens and early 20s – a demographic that is critical to Biden’s aim of vaccinating at least 70% of adults before July 4.
So far, more than 61% of US adults have gotten at least one Covid-19 shot, but the demand for vaccinations is down by nearly 50% and members of Generation Z are less likely to get vaccinated. Experts worry the slowing vaccinations across the United States may mean some communities don’t reach the widespread protection levels that officials hope for and continue to face outbreaks.
But even with the slowdown, hopes are high for a return to normal life in the not-so-distant future. Theme parks are reopening. Rush-hour gridlock has returned. The office beckons for those who are ready. Generation Zoom may actually return to the classroom come September. And on Broadway, the show will soon go on. Finally, it’s possible to believe Fauci’s assurances in the dark days of winter that pandemics do end, Stephen Collinson writes.
WHO coronavirus investigators pinpoint overlooked Chinese data for further study
Previously overlooked Chinese data on extensive screening of animals for coronavirus around the time the pandemic erupted is among several areas identified for further study by World Health Organization (WHO) scientists investigating the origins of Covid-19, a source close to the team told CNN.
The source said the records are contained in a nearly 200-page annex posted alongside the WHO panel’s March report that received little attention among global experts at the time. But the data may add weight to calls from China’s critics for more transparency and to the WHO team’s desire to return to the country for further studies.
No date has been set for the team’s return to China, but the source said any future visit to the country – where the virus emerged in the city of Wuhan in late 2019 – may involve “smaller groups supporting specific studies first.” A larger group, similar to the 17 international experts that visited in January, might then follow up, the source added.
Covid made the Philippines’ hunger crisis worse. So why does hardly anyone want a vaccine?
The Philippines was one of Asia’s poorest countries even before the pandemic. Toward the end of 2020, nearly a quarter of Filipinos were living in poverty, surviving on about $3 a day.
More than 3 million children in the Philippines have stunted growth, and 618,000 children are classed as “wasted” – defined by the WHO as low weight for height, which usually occurs due to lack of adequate food or prolonged illnesses. That’s among the highest rates in the world – and the figures were recorded before the most recent lockdown that started in March.
Desperate to avoid more lockdowns and kickstart the faltering economy, the government is now pinning its hopes on vaccines. But while health experts say vaccination is a crucial tool in bringing an end to the pandemic, many Filipinos are skeptical, and vaccination take-up remains dangerously low, Rebecca Wright and Yasmin Coles write.
ON OUR RADAR
- New York City’s school system will move to in-person classes only from September, making it one of the first major US cities to remove the remote learning option.
- At a weeklong WHO assembly, European leaders have backed efforts to bolster the public health body’s independence and ability to respond quickly to global health crises – eliminating the kind of delays the organization encountered from China in trying to investigate the coronavirus outbreak.
- The UK’s all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus has called on the government to provide “urgent clarity” on restrictions in areas in England where the variant first identified in India is spreading.
- Delhi’s deputy chief minister said the Indian central government’s vaccine rollout is “a joke,” adding that international companies including Pfizer have declined their separate requests for vaccines.
- Taiwan has extended its second-highest Covid-19 alert level for three more weeks until June 14, as cases mount.
What the new US mask guidance means for kids under 12
When the CDC issued its new mask guidance last week, it didn’t include advice to vaccinated parents who have unvaccinated children, leaving many parents confused about what to do.
The new guidance says people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 may go without masks in most circumstances and don’t have to keep their distance from others. But everyone who is not vaccinated should continue wearing a mask as usual – and that means everyone under the age of 12, the only group currently not eligible for any of the vaccines in use in the United States.
So, should vaccinated parents and older siblings continue to wear masks because of younger family members? Are young children now less safe in public spaces? Here’s what you need to know.
“Wow, my body brought me through a pandemic!” – Dr. Joy Cox
How should we think about our bodies after this stressful past year? CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores the power of exercise and the importance of cultivating respect and appreciation for our bodies. Tony Horton, trainer and creator of P90X, shares his tips for setting a realistic workout routine that you can stick with, and weight stigma expert Dr. Joy Cox discusses how we can treat our bodies with compassion. Listen here.