Bread & Roses: Covid, Not Olympics, Requires Our National Effort

SNA (Tokyo) — I teach a weekly class on social security theory at a nursing college. When I read comments from the aspiring nurses, I can see their passion for alleviating human suffering, as well as for the class, which is gratifying as a teacher.

The Covid pandemic that has spread over the globe over the past year has impacted medical facilities the most. Tokyo recently declared its third state of emergency, as the daily toll of new patients sometimes exceeds 1,000 people. Japan doesn’t restrict people’s movement as in a mandatory lockdown; the state of emergency means only that restaurants and department stores close an hour earlier than usual, and restaurants serve fewer alcoholic beverages.

When the first state of emergency was declared last year, we saw a clear change in behavioral patterns–people became tense, schools closed, and companies shifted to telework to help alleviate rush-hour congestion. But now, a year later, people are suffering korona-tsukare (coronavirus fatigue), having first become korona-nare (used to the coronavirus), and desensitized to the ongoing horror of the global pandemic. Many see it as the problem of some other people, until someone close to them gets infected.

As of May 1, 2021, 598,988 people had been confirmed infected in Japan, with 10,326 of those patients dying, Johns Hopkins University reports. Neighboring South Korea had seen 123,240 infections with 1,833 deaths by the same date. China’s infections totaled 96,886 with 4,636 deaths; and Taiwan has seen 1,132 infections, including 12 deaths. Japan has the “lead” among East Asian nations.

Even at this juncture, the nation’s leaders bleat on about hosting the Tokyo Olympics. Last Wednesday, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach egged our leaders on, expressing admiration for “Japanese society’s” mental tenacity in forging ahead with the already once-postponed games. He said the Japanese have overcome adversity and have the wherewithal to complete the daunting task of hosting them amid the raging pandemic. He didn’t happen to mention why we should do so.

Even if Japan miraculously manages to rein in the number of new domestic cases over the next month, many countries around the world will still be struggling. A sporting event is entertainment to be enjoyed by people in stable and secure circumstances–fans in the host country as well as those back home in participating nations. Those trying to ram the Olympics down our throats apparently stand to gain a great deal of profit from it.

Much of the mainstream media refuses to acknowledge that the Olympics should be cancelled. Even the so-called “liberal” media are weak-kneed on the issue. The five national newspapers (Yomiuri ShinbunAsahi ShinbunMainichi ShinbunNihon Keizai Shinbun, and Sankei Shinbun) are all the official partners of the Olympics. Social media polls suggest that over 80% of the Japanese people think the Olympics should be canceled or further delayed. Yet, major media outlets keep their mouths shut. I can’t help but think back to the Pacific War when the media didn’t want to say what most people already knew–that the war was wrong and was failing.

On April 26, 2021, the Tokyo Organising Committee for the Olympics and Paralympics sent a letter to the Japanese Nursing Association, a national organization of nurses, requesting that five hundred nurses be secured as medical staff during the Games. A critical nurse shortage had already begun to make it impossible to provide proper treatment to Covid patients, handle PCR tests and vaccinations, while the Osaka healthcare system had already begun to collapse. The committee is asking these nurses to work for free, as volunteers, paying only their transportation, accommodation, and food expenses. Nursing is a brutally tough profession in the best of times; I cannot imagine what it is like now.

The government wants to sacrifice its 130 million people and wants five hundred nurses to abandon the patients lying in front of them and to provide their labor for free for the sake of a sporting event.

The coronavirus made me realize that our lives are sustained by nurses and physicians’ deep sense of mission. The government must immediately cancel the Olympic Games; hike remunerations to the medical professionals on the front lines, busting their asses every day with little regard for the risk to their own health; and create an environment conducive to caring for the mounting numbers of Covid patients.


This article was written by Hifumi Okunuki, and originally published by the Shingetsu News Agency (SNA).