Olympic organisers must be flexible if coronavirus vaccine not found in time, experts say

SHOWS:

TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - DECEMBER 15, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

1. VARIOUS OF OLYMPIC RINGS, NATIONAL STADIUM

ATLANTA, GEORGIA, UNITED STATES (APRIL 19, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

2. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SPORTS EPIDEMIOLOGIST AT EMORY UNIVERSITY, ZACH BINNEY, SAYING:

"When we talk about bringing sports back with fans in packed stadiums I really think that's something we are going to have to wait for a vaccine to be able to do and that's probably going to be at least a year-and-a-half from when the outbreak started, so we are talking late 2021 at the earliest."

3. WHITE FLASH

4. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SPORTS EPIDEMIOLOGIST AT EMORY UNIVERSITY, ZACH BINNEY, SAYING:

"Two people is more dangerous than one, ten is more dangerous than two, 100 is more dangerous than ten. So it's all along a continuum. But once you get up to 50,000, 70,000, 100,000 for something like college football here in the United States in some stadiums, that's an enormous amount of risk to be taking on without a vaccine."

TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - DECEMBER 15, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

5. VARIOUS OF INSIDE OF NATIONAL STADIUM

ATLANTA, GEORGIA, UNITED STATES (APRIL 19, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

6. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SPORTS EPIDEMIOLOGIST AT EMORY UNIVERSITY, ZACH BINNEY, SAYING:

"Even next year, we're still probably going to have some areas of the world where outbreaks are popping up and there's more transmission than others. So that does make it uniquely risky because that increases the chance that you are bringing somebody in from an area where the infection is rampant and so they might be more likely to bring it in and spread it around the Olympics. And the other element of risk is that everybody is going home once the Olympics are over, all over the globe."

TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - JANUARY 1, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

7. VARIOUS OF FANS LEAVING NATIONAL STADIUM FOLLOWING EMPEROR' S CUP FINAL SOCCER MATCH

ATLANTA, GEORGIA, UNITED STATES (APRIL 19, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

8. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SPORTS EPIDEMIOLOGIST AT EMORY UNIVERSITY, ZACH BINNEY, SAYING:

"That isolation area - that can't be the Olympic Village. There has to be a stage between when you arrive in Tokyo and the Olympic Village. Because my goal would be to keep the Olympic Village as a virus-free quarantine zone, so you only let people who you are almost certain are not infected, into the Olympic Village and the event areas."

TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - JANUARY 1, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

9. VARIOUS OF FANS LEAVING NATIONAL STADIUM FOLLOWING EMPEROR' S CUP FINAL SOCCER MATCH

ATLANTA, GEORGIA, UNITED STATES (APRIL 19, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

10. (SOUNDBITE) (English) SPORTS EPIDEMIOLOGIST AT EMORY UNIVERSITY, ZACH BINNEY, SAYING:

"Perhaps if the IOC worked with Tokyo to allow this - you could show up to Tokyo further in advance, maybe four to six weeks in advance, and you take your two-week isolation period as soon as you arrive and then you move into the Olympic Village and you have, say, two to three weeks to train back up for events. So, the two-week period, as long as you have the Olympic Village on offer as a virus-free quarantine zone, that could give some folks time to train immediately prior to the Games."

TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - JULY 6, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

11. VARIOUS OF TEST EVENT AT CANOE SLALOM CENTRE

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA (APRIL 19, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

12. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INFECTIOUS DISEASES EXPERT AND ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN VIRAL PATHOGENESIS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA, JASON KINDRACHUK, SAYING:

"Not only do you have to get everybody vaccinated, but you also have to make sure that the vaccine is taken and that they have decent immune responses. And you want to get people vaccinated, not right at the point of the Olympics but a little bit beforehand so they build up that protective immunity. So I think all these things need to be weighed and it made lead to some postponement or delay or further delay, but again, I think we have to get through at least probably the next couple of months to really understand whether or not the virus starts to have some resurgence in areas that lift up physical distancing measures, to see how susceptible we still are across the globe."

TOKYO, JAPAN (FILE - JULY 24, 2019) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

13. VARIOUS OF TOKYO 2020 OLYMPICS MEDALS

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, CANADA (APRIL 19, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

14. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INFECTIOUS DISEASES EXPERT AND ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN VIRAL PATHOGENESIS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MANITOBA, JASON KINDRACHUK, SAYING:

"Because if we're still in a position that we have to social distance, we can't necessarily have things like the Olympic Village or the participation of people probably in any fashion as part of the Olympics. So I think, again, there's a way potentially to do it but it's going to take some creative thinking and hopefully a willingness from the public to at least still partake in watching and enjoying them (the Games) and understanding that it's just simply not going to look like what we've seen before."

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN (FILE - FEBRUARY 18, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

15. VARIOUS OF PASSENGERS ON BOARD DIAMOND PRINCESS CRUISE SHIP UNDER QUARANTINE

KOBE, JAPAN (APRIL 20, 2020) (FCCJ - MUST ON SCREEN COURTESY FCCJ)

16. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INFECTIOUS DISEASES PROFESSOR AT KOBE UNIVERSITY WHO VISITED THE DIAMOND PRINCESS CRUISE SHIP, KENTARO IWATA, SAYING:

"To be honest with you, I don't think (the) Olympics is likely to be held next year, if held (at) any time."

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN (FILE - FEBRUARY 18, 2020) (REUTERS - ACCESS ALL)

17. VARIOUS OF PASSENGERS ON BOARD DIAMOND PRINCESS CRUISE SHIP UNDER QUARANTINE

KOBE, JAPAN (APRIL 20, 2020) (FCCJ - MUST ON SCREEN COURTESY FCCJ)

18. (SOUNDBITE) (English) INFECTIOUS DISEASES PROFESSOR AT KOBE UNIVERSITY WHO VISITED THE DIAMOND PRINCESS CRUISE SHIP, KENTARO IWATA, SAYING:

"Japan might be able to control this disease by next summer, and I wish we could, but I don't think that would happen everywhere on earth. In this regard, I'm very pessimistic about holding (the) Olympic Games next summer, unless you hold Olympic Games in a totally different structure such as no audience or a very limited participation, or such and such."

INTERNET (APRIL 20, 2020) (INTERNET - ACCESS ALL) (MUTE)

19. EMAILED STATEMENT FROM TOKYO 2020 ORGANISING COMMITTEE SPOKESMAN, MASA TAKAYA, READING (English): "WITH THE NEW DATES FOR THE TOKYO 2020 GAMES NOW DECIDED, THE TOKYO 2020 ORGANISING COMMITTEE'S MISSION IS TO PREPARE THE STAGE FOR NEXT SUMMER; WE DO NOT FEEL IT IS APPROPRIATE TO RESPOND TO SPECULATIVE QUESTIONS. WITH REGARD TO COUNTERMEASURES AGAINST COVID-19, TOKYO 2020 AND THE IOC HAVE A FRAMEWORK FOR INFORMATION EXCHANGE AND ARE COOPERATING CLOSELY WITH THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION. WE WILL CONTINUE TO WORK DEEPLY WITH RELEVANT ORGANISATIONS AND REVIEW ALL NECESSARY COUNTERMEASURES."

STORY: The Tokyo Olympics next July will be a "uniquely risky" event, demanding flexibility from organisers amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly if a vaccine has not been rolled out by then, medical experts say.

Japan and the International Olympic Committee made the unprecedented decision last month to delay the Games for a year, as the world battles the virus that has infected 2.3 million people and killed more than 150,000 globally.

But questions persist whether the Games can go ahead 15 months from now, as a vaccine could still be at least a year away, according to the most optimistic estimates.

"When we talk about bringing sports back with fans in packed stadiums I really think that's something we are going to have to wait for a vaccine to be able to do," said Zach Binney, an epidemiologist at Emory University in the United States.

With Tokyo 2020 to run from July 23 to Aug. 8 next year, organisers expect few changes to the original plan for the Games, including attendance by supporters.

But that might be overly optimistic, Binney, a specialist in aspects of athlete health, told Reuters.

He expects a vaccine could take a year-and-a-half to be ready from when the outbreak started, perhaps late 2021 at the earliest.

The Olympics was "a uniquely risky event", he added, because of the threats represented by visitors arriving from areas with a lot of infections, and the reverse flow afterwards, when returning home, of people carrying infections with them.

Although more hopeful for a vaccine to be found within a year, Jason Kindrachuk, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Manitoba in Canada, flagged a risk of further delay to the Games, as the vaccination effort would take time.

"You want to get people vaccinated, not right at the point of the Olympics, but a little bit beforehand so they build up that protective immunity," said Kindrachuk, who has worked on outbreaks of Ebola and SARS.

Dr Kentaro Iwata, who drew international attention for his criticism of the Japanese government after a visit in February to the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined with thousands of passengers, expressed pessimism over the new date.

"I don't think the Olympics is likely to be held next year, if held at any time," Iwata told the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in a teleconference.

In response, the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee said it was focusing purely on delivering the Games next year.

"The mission is to prepare the stage for next summer; we do not feel it is appropriate to respond to speculative questions," Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said in an email reply to Reuters on Monday (April 20).

(Production: Jack Tarrant)

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