Osaka – In the wake of the government extending its COVID-19 state of emergency for nine prefectures, including Osaka, Kyoto, and Hyogo in the Kansai region, until June 20, there has been a flood of media reports on how risky it would be to go ahead with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, slated to begin on July 23.
At the end of May, the number of daily new cases in Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto was declining compared with April. But that didn’t ease the worries of Kansai residents, because local medical systems, especially Osaka's, have all but collapsed.
Horror stories of people consigned to temporary waiting stations for over two days before being able to receive treatment have made local, national and international headlines.
Osaka hospitals were at or well beyond full capacity for much of May. A rise in cases of the more infectious alpha and delta virus variants — first detected in the U.K. and India, respectively — in Osaka and Hyogo has had officials particularly worried.
Despite Osaka Prefecture expanding the number of beds for seriously ill COVID-19 patients in April, the rest of its medical system, from emergency medical personnel responding by ambulance to available doctors and nurses in hospital wards for seriously ill patients, was overwhelmed.
Regardless of how the coronavirus situation in Osaka and the Kansai region changes in the coming weeks, there are reasons to be wary when it comes to determining the health risks of holding the Tokyo Olympics.
Obviously, those who live in or plan to visit Tokyo during the Olympics have the greatest potential exposure.
But in the Kansai region, people are anxious that those going to the Tokyo Games from abroad or those involved with the event traveling from Kansai may help spread the virus or catch it and bring it back west.
Kansai residents who will be going to Tokyo during the games for non-Olympic reasons are concerned for similar reasons.
There may be those in Kansai who are asymptomatic either before they arrive in Tokyo or after they depart and therefore don’t get tested. What's the risk to those in Tokyo with whom they come into contact during the Olympics? What’s the risk to people in Kansai they come into contact with after their return?
Aside from the risk of spreading infections, there is also the possibility of adding to the burden on hospitals, which are already strained in the summer when they often treat more patients.
In his news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on May 27, Naoto Ueyama, chairman of the Japan Doctors Union, said that, in normal times, May and June are a slow time for many hospitals. But he warned that once the summer heat of July arrives, heatstroke and heat exhaustion cases spike, causing emergency medical technicians, doctors and nurses to rush to respond.
Then factor in concerns about typhoon season, typically in August and September, and whether sufficient medical workers and facilities will be available if damage from disasters, including floods, creates a large-scale medical emergency.
Finally, there will still be a lot of people nationwide who put off various surgeries and treatments to make space for coronavirus patients. Those in the Kansai region will need medical attention once the strain on Osaka’s medical systems eases up.
Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic, heatstroke — summers in the Kansai region are usually hotter than in Tokyo — and natural disasters, as well as the already exhausted medical systems in the area, are just some of the reasons why residents here are wondering about just how safe holding the games in Tokyo will be for their own region.
View from Osaka is a monthly column that examines the latest news from a Kansai perspective.
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