Tokyo: Paralympics open amid ‘dire’ Covid-19 situation

The governor of the capital declares crisis as pressure on hospitals continues to grow. The government and the organizing committee say they don't want to betray the Paralympic ideal of a more inclusive society. Criticism over a failure to discuss risks to Japan's post-Games population.

Tokyo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The opening ceremony of the Paralympics will be held today, while cases of Covid-19 in the country continue to rise. From tomorrow until August 5, about 4,400 athletes from 160 countries will take part in the sporting events.

Despite the extension of the state of emergency, the infections continue to rise: in the last week the average was 22,786 new infections per day.

Although the government led by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga denies any correlation, in the capital and surrounding prefectures, in the 17 days in which the Olympics were held, cases of Covid-19 have tripled. The Japanese health system is under pressure and due to the shortage of hospital beds more and more people are recovering at home. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike last week called the situation "disastrous."

The Japanese government and the organizing committee decided not to cancel the sporting event so as not to betray the Paralympic ideal of building a more inclusive and integrated society. For the same reason the competitions will be held without an audience, but the organizing bodies chose to invite more than 100 thousand children from elementary, middle and high schools to attend the Games.

During the Olympics no outbreaks have occurred among athletes, but the risk for Paralympic athletes is higher because of their different disabilities.

"I'm confident it will be a safe Games - but a safe Games doesn't mean zero cases," International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons told BBC Sport. "We will have cases. But how we then control and react to the positive cases, and not let them spread the virus, will define whether we are successful or not. I understand the frustration and the anger among the Japanese about the pandemic, but there is no correlation between it and the presence of the Olympics here and I'm sure it is going to be the same with the Paralympics. There are other reasons for the rise in the number of cases."

In any case, there has been a lack of in-depth discussion about the post-Paralympics risks to the population, writes the Asahi Shimbun in its editorial, which calls for the government to take greater responsibility in protecting the health of its citizens. "Given the situation, it is hard not to feel the doubt and anxiety about holding another huge international sporting event so soon after the Olympics."

The Osaka-based newspaper continues – “inviting children to the event will certainly be a nice gesture and kids will feel inspired by the performances of Paralympic athletes, but Covid-19 cases are on the rise even among younger people.

Meanwhile, a member of the government committee for the promotion of the Games has resigned for having too close a relationship with a sports club, but "the government has not yet offered detailed information on the scandal." This attitude, the editorial concludes, is "in stark contrast to the athletes' brilliant and amazing performances."