With little more than two months to go before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympic Games, a major Japanese medical association is calling for the cancellation of the event due to the current surge of new COVID-19 infections.
The Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association posted an open letter Monday to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga warning that hospitals in the Japanese capital city “have their hands full and have almost no spare capacity.”
The group that represents about 6,000 primary care doctors and hospitals urged Suga to convince the International Olympic Committee that holding the games would be “difficult” and that it should be called off.
The current surge has prompted authorities to place Tokyo and several other prefectures under a state of emergency, leading to a growing demand among the general public to cancel the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin July 23 after a one-year delay because of the pandemic.
A public opinion poll published Monday by Asahi Shimbun newspaper revealed more than 80% of Japanese are opposed to the games, with 43% wanting them canceled and another 40% calling for them to be postponed again.
Only 14% of those want the games to proceed as scheduled.
The outbreak has also caused the Japanese economy to contract 5.1% in the first three months of 2021.
Taiwan to close schools
Meanwhile, health officials in Taiwan said Tuesday it will close all schools and education centers in the island due to the surge of new coronavirus infections. The closures, which also include all daycare centers, take effect Wednesday and last through May 28.
The self-ruled island had been held up as one of the world’s few success stories in containing the spread of the coronavirus, with just 2,017 total cases and 12 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. But it has been dealing with an outbreak of new infections which authorities have connected to outbreaks among flight crews with state-owned China Airlines and a hotel at Taoyuan International Airport.
Taipei reported 240 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, down from Monday’s record-high 335 new infections. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Pfizer, Moderna vaccines
On the vaccine front, a group of U.S. scientists say the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna are highly effective against the B.1.617 and B.1.618 variants first detected in India. The lab-based preliminary study conducted at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine used serum samples collected from eight people who had recovered from COVID-19, six people fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and three people fully vaccinated with Moderna's.
The researchers found the antibodies from people who had been vaccinated were working “well above” the serum level from those who had recovered from COVID-19.
The study has not been peer-reviewed.
Meanwhile, the European Union’s drug regulator announced Monday the Pfizer vaccine can be stored much longer at temperatures higher than previously recommended. The European Medicines Agency said unopened vials of the two-shot vaccine can be stored between five and 30 days at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, as opposed to ultra-cold temperatures between minus 70 and 80 degrees Celsius.
The new storage recommendations will make it easier to distribute the vaccine among the EU’s 27-member states, many of whom have been mired in slow inoculation rates.
Johns Hopkins is reporting more than 163.6 million total COVID-19 infections worldwide, including more than 3.3 million deaths. The United States leads the world with more than 32.9 million confirmed infections and 586,359 deaths. India has topped 25 million total infections, putting it second behind the U.S., while Brazil is third with more than 15.6 million confirmed cases.
Brazil is in second place in total deaths with 436,537, while India is third with 278,719 deaths.