Weeks before 6,000 doctors in Tokyo signed off on a letter to the prime minister of Japan, begging that the Olympics and Paralympics be canceled, there was Dr. Takahashi Masaya, who made his own bold and desperate statement.
In the windows of his mid-sized, 287-bed hospital, Takahashi had signs put up in the windows, declaring to the nation that enough was enough: “Give us a break. The Olympics are impossible!”
When the signs went up in late April, Japan was already getting hit hard by its fourth wave of the outbreak, and more and more prefectures were going under a state of emergency to try to slow the spread of COVID-19. The vaccine roll out of the Pfizer (PFE) shot was going painfully slow – and still is, despite the recent approvals of shots by Moderna (MRNA) and AstraZeneca (AZN) . The 90 doctors in Takahashi's Tachikawa Sogo Hospital were becoming worn out, treating more and more COVID-19 patients, while still trying to serve others for routine care. Staff had been sacrificing their time with family and friends to avoid getting infected or infecting others – even refraining from conversation during work lunches – since the pandemic began, Takahashi said, and now they were expected to accept the global sporting event that could further increase the spread of COVID?
Takahashi, a surgeon in his late 50s, and director of Tachikawa Sogo Hospital since 2018, had enough.
“We have no choice but to oppose the hosting of the Olympic Games,” he said.
'私はこの考えに同意します。もし、オリンピックが現実に開催されたら、感染の爆発が起こる危険はとても大きいと考えます.' -髙橋 雅哉先生
Since the signs were posted in the hospital, the nation's opposition to the once-in-a-generation games has grown further, with thousands of doctors posting a joint letter calling for canceling the Olympics and Paralympics, noting how Japan and much of the world is still far from winning the battle against the virus. And, several polls have shown that a majority of Japanese don’t want anything to do with the games that were cheered on when Tokyo was picked to host them more than 7 years ago, despite promises to vaccinate as many athletes as possible and take other safety measures.
Here, Takahashi tells TheStreet in an exclusive interview about his views on the COVID-19 crisis in Japan and why he spoke out.
The following was conducted by email in Japanese and English and edited for clarity.
TheStreet: Many people have been impressed by the response to COVID in Japan. The numbers have been low and the restrictions have been minimal. But do you believe the official numbers are real, based on what you see at your hospital? One analysis claims to show that Japan’s COVID deaths are many times – even 10 times – higher than reported. What do you think?
Takahashi: To the extent we know, I think there is no trickery of numbers. Some patients have died in our hospital so far. We report the numbers of the patients and the deaths to the local health center. The health center adds up the numbers from hospitals of this area, and lets us know that number week by week. If the numbers differ far from the truth, I think we would be able to notice it.
TheStreet: Japan is rolling out vaccines, but not many people have gotten them so far. Also, Japan has many elderly people – and many people with apparently no immunity to COVID. That seems like a ticking time bomb. Is it?
Takahashi: I agree. If the Olympic games are actually held, I think that the danger of an explosion in COVID-19 infections is seriously big.
TheStreet: ... What is your hospital seeing now in terms of COVID-19 patients… ?
Takahashi: We have 22 beds for COVID-19 patients. As the care of COVID-19 patients need special attention to protect against spreading infection, we have to significantly shrink other, general medical care.
TheStreet: What kind of stress do you think hosting the Olympics could put on Japanese hospitals and health care workers like yours?
Takahashi: If we think about it, normally, hosting the Olympics will lead to a big increase in COVID-19 infections. We are already too exhausted to deal with that kind of situation. Unless the government can give us a reasonable explanation of how the Olympics could be held without increasing the number of COVID-19 infections, we have to be against it.