TOKYO (AP) – They spit. They wait. They wait.
Approximately 30,000 people from dozens of countries are spitting into small plastic jars at the Olympics in a daily routine that has become crucial to moving forward with the pandemic-era Games, according to organizers.
If you do the math for the two-week-long Olympics, that adds up to half a million saliva samples collected for athletes, which are tested daily, as well as elsewhere, in an extraordinary effort to slow the spread of COVID. 19 infections. About 1 milliliter per sample, that would be… well, a lot of saliva.
In contrast, these tests have been difficult to find for the general Japanese public. Japan is unique among developed nations in having discouraged widespread testing for the coronavirus.
The thousands of collected saliva samples are stored in tubes and identified by barcode and then all go through preliminary testing. Those with dubious results go through another round of testing, according to the Olympic organizers’ “Playbook,” which outlines anti-COVID-19 measures.
The tests are carried out in a facility called the Fever Clinic, which also treats and isolates infected people within the so-called “Olympic bubble.” Once a COVID-19 infection is identified or suspected, “close contacts” are also tested to identify other people who may be sick, a tapping process that is done under controlled conditions. Organizers did not comment on the number of people working at the clinic or the specific arrangements.
These tests do not require you to put a swab in your nose, another widespread method of testing for coronavirus.
Trials for athletes, team officials, the media and others affiliated with the Games are free to submitters, though they are estimated to cost around 10,000 yen ($ 100) each, medical experts say. Trials for members of the Japanese public generally cost that, sometimes more.
Some medical experts have expressed concern that the Olympics will become a “super broadcast” event. Daily coronavirus cases rose to a record high in Tokyo, surpassing 3,000 people this week.
Takanori Teshima, a professor at the University of Hokkaido who helped develop the tests used in Japan, including those at airports, says that constant and careful testing of Olympians means that the risks mainly lie with the general public and make them sick. to athletes, not the other way around.
“As you know, not all people are going to listen and remain isolated. So testing on testing is the best way, “he said. “But this is possible only because it is the Olympics. It is unrealistic to think that this method can continue as a routine. “
Shosuke Takeuchi, a physician and director of Take Clinic Shimbashi, one of Tokyo’s largest coronavirus testing locations, acknowledged that voluntary testing can be limited to stop the spread of the disease because people whose lifestyle habits make them more contagious. They are precisely the type of people who won. I look for evidence.
Avid testing at the Olympics has led to shortages and some national teams recently complained that their test kits had not arrived. Organizers were quick to provide additional kits.
So far, 23 athletes, as well as others working at the Games, including Japanese residents, such as security officials, have tested positive, totaling 225 people as of Friday. But the rate of positive results at the Olympics remains relatively low, at 0.02% in July, because more than 340,000 tests have been conducted so far, according to organizers in Tokyo.
And the places where COVID-19 seems to be spreading the most are the busy streets of Tokyo, not the tried-and-true Olympic venues, say Teshima and other medical experts.
Masaharu Isobe, a professor at Toyama University’s Cellular and Molecular Biology Laboratory, who has developed a rapid COVID antigen test, says that regular testing may eventually become more common for everyone.
“The point is to locate infected people as soon as possible and prevent them from spreading it everywhere,” he said.
Still, reflecting widespread opinion, Masaru Kaneko, an economist and honorary professor at Keio University, says that it is unfair that these types of tests are administered daily to Olympians, but that they are still difficult to obtain for normal people.
Japanese Olympians and staff have also been given priority to get vaccinated, while deployment for normal people has been delayed, about a quarter of the population fully vaccinated so far, Kaneko said on his Twitter account.
“Equality with regard to the right to life is not guaranteed in Japan,” he said.
Testing someone every day is a troublesome and expensive endeavor and, at the Olympics, it is a special government-backed endeavor, Teshima said.
“It is a great contradiction,” he said. “Why only athletes?”
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