As the number of COVID-19 cases surge in Japan, U.S. health officials warn against all travel to the country which is set to host the Olympic Games in two months.
Dr. David Katz, a preventive medicine specialist who founded and served as director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center from 1998 to 2019, cautioned of a potential "superspreader event" given Japan’s high case count and slow vaccine rollout.
“From a public health perspective, given what's going on in Japan... this looks to me like a superspreader event,” Dr. Katz told Yahoo Finance Live. “If vulnerable people who are not immune come from all over the world and take the virus back, we could have outbreaks in many parts of the world again.”
Japan has reported more than 32,000 COVID-19 cases and 654 deaths in the last seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, while just 2.3% of its population has been vaccinated so far.
“My heart goes out to the athletes. The Olympics are such a rarefied thing," added Dr. Katz. “But it's a bad idea from a public health perspective to have a mass congregation in a part of the world where the virus is spreading at a pretty high level and rates of immunity are low… It's a dangerous situation for sure.”
Dr. Katz’s warning is echoed by others in the medical community. A group of health experts wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine of the need to protect Olympic participants from COVID-19, urging the World Health Organization to “immediately convene an emergency committee” to advise on a risk-management approach while warning failure to do so could result in widespread transmission.
“Although several countries have vaccinated their athletes, adolescents between 15 and 17 years of age cannot be vaccinated in most countries, and children younger than 15 can be vaccinated in even fewer countries,” the researchers wrote. “As a result, few teenage athletes, including gymnasts, swimmers, and divers as young as 12, will be vaccinated. In the absence of regular testing, participants may become infected during the Olympics and pose a risk when they return home to more than 200 countries.”
The Olympic Games are scheduled to begin July 23 and run through August 8.