‘By the time Olympic flame is extinguished 100,000 more people would’ve died,’ WHO chief

The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, delayed for a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, finally kicked off on Wednesday.

While the sport is a welcome distraction amid the global pandemic, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged us not to forget our reality.

“By the time the Olympic flame is extinguished on the eighth of August, more than 100,000 more people will perish,” Tedros, who is in Tokyo for the Games, said on Wednesday.

“The pandemic is a test, and the world is failing,” he said, adding that anyone who thinks the pandemic is over is living in a “fool’s paradise.”

The WHO chief’s comments come as cases continue to surge globally, including in Japan, where Tokyo on Wednesday reported its highest daily increase of new infections since mid-January.

Despite the country’s struggle to rein in cases, Tokyo 2020 organizers have decided to push ahead. But with just two days until the Olympics’ formal opening ceremony on Friday, it is still unclear whether the public health measures in place will be enough to prevent the Games from becoming a global superspreader event.

Some 11,000 athletes from 200 countries are set to arrive for the Olympics and the number of cases in Japan linked to the Games now stands at 79, according to organizers.

Five of them are Olympic Village residents, three of which are athletes. Competitors including US gymnast Kara Eaker, basketball player Katie Lou Samuelson and tennis star Coco Gauff member tested positive for Covid prior to arriving in Tokyo, cutting their Olympic dreams short.

Opinion polls in Japan most people oppose holding a major sporting event during a public health crisis. Tokyo extended its coronavirus state of emergency until August 22, with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) barring fans from attending the competition, an Olympic first.