TOKYO – Plans are underway to allow tens of thousands of schoolchildren to attend the Tokyo Paralympic Games despite the spread of the delta variant of the coronavirus among adolescents and even younger people who are not vaccinated.
The Paralympic Games open Tuesday and run until September 5. All other fans were banned as they were for the Olympics. Around 4,400 athletes are expected from around 160 countries and territories.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said she was working to allow schoolchildren to attend the Paralympic Games, provided parents and schools are supportive. Reports indicate that the number of students involved is between 130,000 and 140,000.
Tokyo is in a state of emergency until September 12.
About 40% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated. Tokyo reported 5,074 new cases on Saturday. It was the first time that the capital recorded more than 5,000 cases for four consecutive days. New daily cases have risen sharply since the opening of the Olympics on July 23.
Tokyo reported 4,392 new cases on Sunday. Japan has attributed around 15,500 deaths to COVID-19.
Tokyo’s hospital capacity has become so tight that those not deemed sick enough to be hospitalized are receiving oxygen at home or in makeshift facilities set up for emergencies.
The Tokyo Organizing Committee and the International Paralympic Committee are also supporting the plan for student fans. They argue that it’s important for students to see athletes with disabilities, which could change attitudes in a relatively conservative society like Japan.
“This generation is the one that will support our company in the future, and so we are absolutely passionate about this opportunity,” Tokyo organizing committee spokesperson Masa Takaya said on Sunday.
In an interview a few days ago, IPC Chairman Andrew Parsons said he supported the plan – with one caveat.
“We endorse the initiative because we believe it is an important part of the legacy in bringing school children to the games,” said Parsons. “But of course, it is imperative that these children come to the games safely.”
The opposition comes from the Japanese government’s top medical adviser. A few days ago, Dr Shigeru Omi said in a parliamentary session that the current situation of COVID-19 “compared to before the Olympics is significantly worse.
“If you think about what it means to empower the public, the decision is pretty obvious,” Omi added.
Omi said the high rate of positive tests in Tokyo exceeding 20% suggests that infections are more widespread than the number of reported daily cases.
In Shizuoka, located about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Tokyo, the 93 schools have canceled their planned participation due to the state of emergency that goes into effect in the region from August 20, according to the Mainichi newspaper.