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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

With less than two months until the Tokyo Olympics' opening ceremony, scientists are warning that "canceling the games may be the safest option," according to a paper published Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Why it matters: As Japan anticipates 20,000 athletes and support staff from 200 different countries, the country remains in a state of emergency with nearly 70,000 active cases and only 5% of the population vaccinated, the lowest rate within OECD countries.

Driving the news: The authors analyzed the International Olympic Committee's COVID-19 guidelines, noting a lack of involvement from national player associations and "no plan B in the event of an outbreak."

IOC's plan emphasizes unsuccessful mitigation measures like temperature checks and contact tracing apps that are "often ineffective," the authors write, in addition to several other missing aspects public health officials have deemed necessary:

  1. There is no safety guidance in risk levels associated with outdoor and indoor sporting events or even on high-contact and or low-contact sports.
  2. Players are not provided masks by IOC and must bring their own.
  3. IOC provides "insufficient detail" on testing frequency and hotel isolation as well as limited contact tracing.
  4. Athletes have limited insurance coverage if they contract COVID-19 during their training and competition periods, an oversight for higher risk populations like Paralympic athletes and staff.

Yes, but: Despite Pfizer and BioNTechoffering to donate vaccine doses for athletes, the shots don't serve as a guarantee all athletes will be vaccinated in time or even choose to be vaccinated for "worries about the effects of vaccination on their performance" or ethical concerns about being prioritized ahead of more vulnerable populations.

But, but, but: The authors recognized the intangible value of the games "at a time of global disconnect ... for us to connect safely, we believe urgent action is needed for these Olympic Games to proceed."

What's next: The authors request the World Health Organization forms an emergency committee to advise a better risk-management approach as it did during the 2016 public health emergency surrounding the Zika virus in Brazil.

Go deeper

Sep 1, 2021 - Health

Texas school temporarily closes after two teachers die from COVID-19 in a week

American and Texas state flag. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A school in Texas closed for the rest of the week on Tuesday after two teachers died from COVID-19 within a week, the Waco Tribune-Herald reports.

State of play: The campus at Connally Junior High School won't open until after Labor Day for deep sanitation, after sixth-grade social studies teacher Natalia Chansler died on Aug. 28, having notified the school three days earlier that she tested positive for COVID-19.

Updated 11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: New York Supreme Court grants stay for indoor mask mandate — Neil Young demands Spotify take down music over vaccine misinformation — Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker
Sep 2, 2021 - Health

Fauci: Mu COVID variant not an "immediate threat" to U.S.

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

NIAID director Anthony Fauci said at a press briefing Thursday that the coronavirus variant Mu, which the World Health Organization is now tracking, does not pose an immediate threat to the U.S.

Driving the news: WHO added the Mu strain, first detected in Colombia in January, to its "Variants of Interest" list Monday, warning that early data suggest it may be more resistant to protection from prior infection or vaccination.