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Did Japan’s Covid Bubble Burst?


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Tokyo’s Olympic “bubble” strategy held the spread at .02% within the Olympic community while countrywide cases spiked

Even though the Olympics were postponed from 2020 to 2021, the world watched, waited and officials prepared. The virus raged on, mutated and now we have the Delta variant, but life must go on. People want to things to go back to the way they were. Will it? Perhaps if we are patient, but no amount of tantrum stomping even from adults will sway the unfeeling Covid. We might just have to let it the notion of unmasked large gatherings go for now. 

Covid Cases Spike Across Japan

Japan Public officials are starting to blame the rising cases in their country on the Olympic presence, even though the Covid Spread through Olympic bubbled peoples was mitigated to only a .02% positivity rate. Japan’s top medical advisor Shigeru Omi reported, “I think that fact the Olympics are being held has impacted people’s awareness,” VOA News.  Immediately after the Olympics kicked off, Japan’s confirmed Covid cases spiked to 15,000. Is there a correlation when the cases within the Olympic community remained low? 

May the Odds Ever Be in Our Favor

According to the CDC’s latest public information, vaccines do protect against the Delta and other known variants. “These vaccines are effective at keeping people from getting COVID-19, getting very sick, and dying.” Statistically speaking, that sounds very vague and spans the entire spectrum. Way to be ambiguous, CDC! If you follow those guidelines, humans will have a 25 % chance of not getting it, getting it with only slight symptoms, getting very sick, and or dying, which is the same protection the flu vaccine provides.

The Facts are Clear

Between 70-80% of participants at the Tokyo 2021 Olympics in all roles were inoculated. Even though social distancing measures in place were not perfectly complied to, the number of cases remained low. A Time reporter present at the games witnessed the lack of compliance. “Media were warned that mixed zones access in Tokyo would be limited…[and] spots were designated by tape and stickers on the floor…Habits die hard, and at the pool and gymnastics venues, journalists clumped together as they always had.” Still the numbers held at .02%. Japan, on the other hand, is currently sitting at a 32% fully vaccinated rate with another 42% of the population having one shot down and one to go. That sounds promising, but clearly not the same. Is this why Covid rampages through Japan? It might very well be for the 2021 Delta wave.

Cause and Effect

Japanese hospitals are filling to capacity. Officials plead with locals to self-isolate. They announced, hospitals can only admit serious cases, a state of emergency. With heavy hearts, the generous hosts gave up the torch from a somber empty stadium. Oblivious France, the official 2024 Olympic hosts, shared a live feed of a huge crowd gathered around the Eiffel Tower as they accepted the torch. Japan, thank you for keeping the world safe. Thank you for your sacrifice. 

What Can the World Learn From the Bubble?

It’s no small task to separate tens of thousands of people with their own will, their own agenda, jobs on the line, competitors from all over the word, and locals eager to witness the iconic gathering, from an unpredictable, invisible infiltrator, but Japan did a fan-dang-tastic, gold medal job. With only a .02% positivity rate spanning the Olympic games, from July 23rd through August 8th, it proves it. 

“The tragedy about history [however]—personally and globally—is that while we may learn it, we rarely learn from it.”

Rasheed Ogunlaru

Lessons We Have Learned and Must Learn

If COVID-19 and all its variants have taught us anything, it is that humans are susceptible to disease and stubborn to control. Norio Sugaya, an infectious disease doctor at Keiyu Hospital told VOA reporters, “Many Japanese people find it ridiculous to follow orders to stay home. Japanese people don’t understand why they should stay home even though the Olympics are being held.” In 2020, the world survived because we hunkered down. Despite mask protestors, the majority dawned the cover to slow the spread and protect their neighbors and it worked. But summer came and businesses, that didn’t go under, opened. People gathered outside once again. The world for a moment had respite. We enjoyed the prowess and valor of our world’s finest athletes from televisions at home, in bars, and restaurants.

Pandemics Require Epic Counter Measures

As it stands today, COVID isn’t going anywhere, and is branching out into new variants. Some of the monumental efforts Japan’s plan entailed were changes in airport processing, frequent testing and monitoring, hotel isolations, assigning mixed zone participants, increased security measures, required vaccinations, and prepackaged meals. While the measures were not ideal, and people want to forget about COVID, Japan protected the Olympians by keeping them in a bubble. However, are bubbles sustainable? If the masses are Covid’s transport and target, then shouldn’t the masses take immediate action, not the government? We’re not cattle, are we? We can think for ourselves.

Science Requires Controls, Not Controlling.

Leaders are doing the best they can, but it is science, which means it’s all an experiment—hopefully with positive results. The key lies in the control group—the masses. Control group, as we all know from good old high school biology, is the steady group with no variants. Controls in an experiment allow the researchers to zero in on specific factors during testing. If there are variants within the control group the experiment fails because the researcher cannot tell what the variable is. So, what are the controls we need to follow, social distancing, washing hands, wearing masks, and vaccinating. Can the control group cooperate? Sure.

Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

We can keep six feet apart, wash our hands. It’s not terribly difficult to respect others who feel strongly against wearing masks and distance ourselves. We can examine our cognitive dissonance with an open mind and try shifting our perspective. If we don’t wear masks, try letting go of the notion that wearing one is the governments way to control us. How about we wear a mask for the safety of others? If an individual makes the choice to wear one, is the government making them? Last of all, if we have the courage get vaccinated. Yes, there are risks, but there are risks if we don’t. Whatever we choose as individuals the most important thing we can do as a collective group is to stop the shame, blame, and fear and support the cause—to get rid of Covid.

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