“We have wings”. The slogan for the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games, which takes place on Tuesday, August 24 (from 1 p.m. KST), is an encouragement, proclaiming that “Paralympic athletes know that whatever the direction of the wind, its power can be used to move forward”. There is no doubt that the 4,328 athletes from 162 delegations engaged in 22 sports will do everything to confirm this.
For the Japanese ready to salute the successes of stars, such as wheelchair tennis player Shingo Kunieda, in search of a third Paralympic title, or triathlete Mami Tani, their performances risk being obscured by the bad wind of a out-of-control upsurge in daily Covid-19 cases. Under the effect of the highly contagious variant Delta, contaminations have almost quintupled in one month, to stand at nearly 25,000 nationally, including more than 5,000 in Tokyo.
Hospitals are saturated in the capital to the point of having refused, between August 9 and August 15, 63% of Covid-19 patients whose condition would have required hospitalization. Deaths at home are on the rise and, according to government adviser Shigeru Omi, the high rate of positive tests in Tokyo of over 20%, “Suggests infections are more widespread than indicated by the number of reported daily cases”.
The prolonged state of health emergency
The situation forced the authorities to extend until September 12 the state of health emergency, initially in place until August 31, in the capital and neighboring departments. Experts are calling on Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to consider legislating to allow true containment – something the law now prohibits.
In this context “Comparable to that of a natural disaster”, according to a commission of the ministry of health, a majority of the Japanese are opposed to the Games. “To hold these competitions in full explosion of contaminations is unconscious, and the decision should be taken to cancel them immediately”, says Koichi Kurosawa, general secretary of the powerful Zenroren union. The most active opponents have called for demonstrations around the national stadium, on the sidelines of the opening ceremony.
The organizers of the Paralympic Games, for their part, are confident in the effectiveness of the protocols in place. These measures worked during the Olympics, they argue, and will also be effective for their Paralympic counterpart. They seem to forget that an accredited person could have helped spread the Delta variant in Japan and that another, from Peru, the Lambda variant, the last concern of health officials. The relaxation of the population observed during the Olympics would have greatly contributed to the sharp increase in cases.
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