TOKYO — For Olympic host cities, certainly one of the keys to a profitable Games is the military of volunteers who cheerfully carry out a variety of duties, like fetching water, driving Olympic autos, decoding for athletes or carrying medals to ceremonies.
If the rescheduled Tokyo Games go forward as deliberate this summer time, roughly 78,000 volunteers may have one other accountability: stopping the unfold of the coronavirus, each amongst individuals and themselves.
For safety, the volunteers are being provided little greater than a few material masks, a bottle of sanitizer and mantras about social distancing. Unless they qualify for vaccination by way of Japan’s slow age-based rollout, they won’t be inoculated towards the coronavirus.
“I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do this,” stated Akiko Kariya, 40, a paralegal in Tokyo who signed as much as volunteer as an interpreter. The Olympic committee “hasn’t told us exactly what they will do to keep us safe.”
As organizers have scrambled to assure the globe that Tokyo can pull off the Games in the midst of a pandemic, the volunteers have been left largely on their very own to determine tips on how to keep away from an infection.
Much of the planning for the postponed Olympics has a seat-of-the-pants high quality. With lower than three months to go earlier than the opening ceremony, the organizers have but to resolve whether or not home spectators might be admitted, or hammer out particulars about who, in addition to the athletes, might be examined frequently.
Tens of hundreds of individuals will descend on Tokyo from greater than 200 nations after practically a yr through which Japan’s borders have been largely closed to outsiders. The volunteers’ assignments will convey them into contact with a lot of the Olympic guests, as they cross out and in of a “bubble” that can embody the Olympic Village and different venues.
“There are a lot of people who have to go in and out of the bubble, and they are not protected at all and not even being tested,” stated Barbara G. Holthus, a volunteer and deputy director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo. “I do see the risk of a superspreader event.”
A leaflet distributed to volunteers advises them to ask guests to face not less than one meter — just a little over three ft — aside. During shifts, they need to disinfect their fingers regularly. If providing help to somebody, they need to keep away from instantly going through the different individual and by no means speak with out a masks.
“Mask wearing and hand washing are very basic, but doing that to the max is the most important thing we can do,” stated Natsuki Den, senior director of volunteer promotion for the Tokyo organizing committee.
“People often say, ‘That is so basic, is that all you can do?’” Ms. Den stated. But if each volunteer implements these primary measures, she stated, “it can really limit the risk. Beyond that, it is hard to think of any magic countermeasures, because they don’t really exist.”
Even as a majority of the Japanese public has remained against internet hosting the Olympics this yr, many volunteers say they’re dedicated, not less than in precept, to fostering worldwide fellowship after greater than a yr of isolation. (The ranks of volunteers did take a large hit when about 1,000 volunteers give up after the first president of the Tokyo organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, made sexist comments.)
But volunteers fear about their very own well being in addition to the security of the athletes and different Olympic individuals, particularly as Tokyo experiences new spikes in virus circumstances. The capital is at the moment below a state of emergency.
“I am scared that I would get the virus and show no symptoms, and accidentally give it to the athletes,” stated Yuto Hirano, 30, who works at a expertise firm in Tokyo and is assigned to assist athletes backstage at the Paralympics occasions for boccia, a ball sport. “I want to protect myself so that I can protect them.”
In addition to the Olympic volunteers, organizers must safe medical employees to workers the Games. Typically, medical doctors and nurses additionally volunteer to work at the Olympics, however this yr, with the medical system overstretched from a yr of combating the coronavirus, well being care employees have begun to balk.
“We are surprised about the talk going around requesting the dispatch of 500 nurses to the Tokyo Olympics,” the Japan Federation of Medical Workers’ Unions stated in an announcement posted on its web site, including that “now is not the time for the Olympics, it’s time for coronavirus countermeasures.”
As the pandemic rages on, some nonmedical volunteers are going to nice lengths to maintain protected. Yoko Aoshima, 49, who teaches English at a enterprise school in Shizuoka, about 90 miles exterior Tokyo, has booked a lodge for the days she is scheduled to work, at a price of 110,000 yen, or about $1,000. That means she received’t need to commute.
To keep away from public transit in Tokyo, she plans to buy a bicycle when she will get to Tokyo to commute to the area hockey stadium the place she is assigned shifts.
But Ms. Aoshima, who determined to volunteer partly to honor the legacy of her father, a former bodily schooling trainer, wonders how she is going to shield her household when she returns residence after the Games.
“When I go back to Shizuoka, is it safe enough for my family to stay with me?” Ms. Aoshima requested. “Will I be able to go back to work?” She stated she had already bought a couple of at-home coronavirus checks to make use of after the Olympics.
For volunteers who’ve spent the final yr avoiding crowds, the idea of immediately being thrust into contact with athletes, coaches, officers or members of the media from exterior Japan is triggering a way of cognitive dissonance.
“I only saw one friend last year, when she had a baby,” stated Ms. Kariya, the paralegal in Tokyo. “I go to the supermarket or the bank, where I really need to go. The last time I rode the train was last March.”
In the absence of extra security measures, Ms. Kariya stated she was contemplating quitting as a volunteer.
Many volunteers are upset that they won’t be provided vaccines earlier than the Games. So far, organizers have stated they aren’t contemplating prioritizing Japan’s Olympic athletes for vaccination, a lot much less volunteers.
“They can’t say they have priority, because then the people would start shouting at them,” stated Chiharu Nishikawa, 61, who goes by Charles. He volunteered at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and London in 2012 and advises the Olympic committee about volunteering.
Some volunteers stated they had been nervous that organizers didn’t have the sources to observe everybody for adherence to the guidelines, which embody carrying masks, avoiding eating in eating places and staying off public transit.
Ms. Holthus stated volunteers may very well be put in a sticky spot, provided that their main position is to undertaking a picture of harmonious hospitality.
A volunteer handbook issued earlier than the Olympics was postponed final yr inspired them to “address people with a smile.” In online classes and different messaging since, Ms. Holthus stated, “They still keep saying, ‘Oh, and your smile is going to be so important.’”
“We’re supposed to be wearing masks,” she stated. “So I find that very insensitive.”
Not each volunteer has severe issues about security. Some stated that they anticipated widespread compliance with the rules, given what’s on the line.
“I think athletes will do whatever it takes to participate in the Olympics,” stated Philbert Ono, a journey author, photographer and translator.
“If we tell them to wear a mask, they will wear a mask,” he stated. “When they have meals, they will sit way far apart and separated and facing only one direction. So I think they are very disciplined and they know what is at stake.”
Hikari Hida contributed reporting.