Tokyo doctor at the crossroads of a COVID-19 crisis and a quiet Olympics


TOKYO, Aug.4 (Reuters) – After more than a year on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese emergency doctor Shoji Yokobori finds himself in the unlikely calm of the Olympics, overseeing a site with strict protocols, without spectators and at low risk of infection.

A volunteer doctor at the Tokyo Olympics weightlifting venue, Yokobori and a team of a dozen other medical staff have yet to see a serious injury, let alone a coronavirus outbreak.

It’s a world apart from the strain of his regular job as head of the intensive care unit at Nippon Medical School Hospital in Tokyo, battling a fifth wave of the pandemic that is pushing the city’s healthcare system to the brink. from the abyss.

“I now live in two different worlds,” said the hospital’s director of emergency medicine and intensive care, 47, wearing a pink medical vest as he stood in the hospital. calm of an almost empty Tokyo International Forum.

“When we go back to the real world, like in the hospital, we see the many COVID-19 patients,” Yokoburi said. “It’s like heaven or hell, I don’t know.”

Yokoburi’s dual existence illustrates life at the two extremes of the Tokyo Olympic “bubble”. The organizers of the games run a village for athletes and coaches where more than 80% are vaccinated against the coronavirus, testing is mandatory and travel is strictly limited. In the wider Japanese capital, vaccination rates remain low and testing and travel protocols are nowhere near as strict. Read more

Yokobori Hospital was chosen to help at the Olympics because of its reputation for emergency care and Yokobori, a fan of tennis player Naomi Osaka, said he was happy to volunteer.

He tours the cavernous site’s medical stations, checking in and sometimes assigning nurses to take blood samples from athletes for doping tests. The lack of spectators reduces the workload, volunteers said.

But Yokobori is also taking urgent calls from its staff at the hospital, asking for advice on issues such as whether or not to use pulmonary assistance for critical cases of COVID-19.

A spike in cases fueled by the Delta variant this week led Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to announce that only critically ill COVID-19 patients would be admitted to hospital, raising fears of an increase in deaths. The government signaled Wednesday that it may consider rolling back the controversial policy. Read more


Yokobori was back on the hospital’s intensive care unit floor on Sunday, having a day off from his Olympic duties.

Immediately after telling Reuters that only one intensive care bed remained for severe cases of COVID-19, another patient was admitted, taking the last of 10 beds allocated.

Yokoburi said he was particularly worried about the surge in cases involving younger patients, who took longer to process, immobilizing beds for longer.

“We still don’t know when this will peak. That’s why we’re scared,” Yokoburi said as he monitored live video of patients in the 60 beds of the ICU.

A doctor at another Olympic site is considering quitting his volunteer work at the Games to return to his hospital to ease the burden on his colleagues, according to the public broadcaster NHK.

Yokobori is also ready to leave the Olympics if the situation in his hospital worsens.

“I don’t want to see any peaks during the Olympic period,” he said, standing on the floor of the intensive care unit. “But if that happens, we’ll have to change teams and put more firepower here.”

Report from Ju-min Park; Editing by David Dolan and Jane Wardell

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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