The Tokyo games will be a “celebration of hope” and show what can be accomplished with international co-operation amid Covid-19, said WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, but warned the world was “failing” to resolve the crisis.
“The Olympics have the power to bring the world together, to inspire, to show what’s possible,” the World Health Organization director-general said on Wednesday, during the second day of meetings of the International Olympic Committee. He added that the games would be a much-needed “celebration of hope” for those worn down by the pandemic.
May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthy, safer and fairer world.
Repurposing the Olympic motto – “Faster, Higher, Stronger, Together” – as a slogan for beefing up vaccinations worldwide, Tedros called on governments to help each other meet a universal 70% immunization target by mid-2022.
“We must be faster in distributing vaccines all over the world. We must aim higher at vaccinating 70% of the population of all countries by the middle of next year,” he said. “We must be stronger in removing every barrier that stands in our way to expand production. And we must do it all together, in solidarity.”
Though Ghebreyesus offered a largely positive message, he also spoke in less rosy terms at certain points in his keynote address, suggesting that global efforts against the coronavirus had not been sufficient.
“I’ve come to answer a question. It’s a question I am often asked, and which the people of the world are asking: when will this pandemic end?” he said, adding, “Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has asked us many questions, about ourselves and about our world.”
The pandemic is a test. And the world is failing.
He observed that more than four million people had already died since the pandemic erupted in late 2019, noting that by the time he finished his speech, another 100 or so would have lost their lives to the virus. “By the time the Olympic flame is extinguished on August 8, another 100,000 people will perish,” he continued.
The Tokyo games are set to kick off on July 23. They were originally scheduled for last year, but were postponed over health fears amid the pandemic. Those concerns have lingered, however. Despite strict entry rules, 67 coronavirus infections have been detected in Japan among those who arrived to compete, according to Reuters. In an effort to minimize health risks, the Japanese authorities have mandated that participants compete in empty venues without spectators – a first in the modern Olympics’ 125-year history.
As of Tuesday, however, the organizing committee in Tokyo said it still hadn’t ruled out canceling the games altogether for a second time, with committee chief Toshiro Muto saying organizers must keep a close eye on the situation.
“We can’t predict what will happen with the number of coronavirus cases, so we will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases,” Muto said. “At this point, coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises.”
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