LONDON • While it is premature to think the coronavirus pandemic will further delay the Tokyo Olympics, which have already been postponed by a year, experts have warned the situation may be untenable unless a medical solution is found.
A vaccine would be a silver bullet, but according to Dr Anthony Fauci, the top American infectious diseases specialist who is coordinating the United States’ response to the Covid-19 crisis, it would take 12 to 18 months to develop, test and approve for public use.
Under increasing pressure from athletes, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Games organisers last month pushed back the world’s foremost sporting event.
But with the crisis showing few signs of abating, questions have begun to surface as to whether a year is sufficient time to stage the Games in a safe environment.
Professor Devi Sridhar, who is chair of global health at the University of Edinburgh, does not believe so unless a vaccine is pushed out, although she praised the IOC and the Tokyo organisers for making the unprecedented decision.
“They’ve made the right decision in saying, ‘We are going to put it back a year and re-evaluate’,” she told the BBC. “That is the only way you can deal with this situation – to take stock, to be hopeful, to support our scientific community to do what they can, because science in the long term is going to be the way we get out of this.
“If we do get a vaccine within the next year, then actually, I think that (Olympics) is realistic. The vaccine will be the game changer – an effective, affordable, available vaccine.
“If we don’t get a scientific breakthrough, then that looks very unrealistic.”
Dr Brian McCloskey, who was the public health director for the London 2012 Games and is a member of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Covid-19 Mass Gatherings Expert Group, also told Reuters that a vaccine would be a panacea.
“Clearly, having (it) would be extremely helpful, not just for the Olympics, but for all of us,” he said. “But even without a vaccine, there are other mitigation measures we will look at to make sure we can run the Games safely.
“It’s a challenge, but I’d say it’s too soon to say it can’t happen.”
“This year for Tokyo, it got to the point where the amount of mitigation that would have been needed was more than we could ask the Japanese government to do.”
However, Dr McCloskey is adopting a wait-and-see approach as to whether the situation can subside, even if a vaccine cannot be found in time.
“It’s quite possible that the outbreak will be at a level where it’s manageable without any particular risk,” he added. “It may be there’s treatment available, we just need to think through the options and not jump to too many conclusions too quickly.”
“We can run through to this time next year. After that, it gets more problematic because people have spent a lot of money, athletes have to make up their mind whether they can come or not.
“It gets more and more difficult the closer you get, but there’s a willingness and an enthusiasm to make sure it happens properly.
“People will try hard and they’ll hang on to the last minute to see whether it’s safe to go.”