A senior member of the International Olympic Committee has said he “can’t be certain” the postponed Tokyo Olympics will open in just over six months because of the surging pandemic in Japan and elsewhere.
The comments by Canadian IOC member Richard Pound to British broadcaster the BBC came as Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency on Thursday for Tokyo and surrounding prefectures.
“I can’t be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus,” Pound said speaking about the future of the Tokyo Games.
Japan’s emergency order, which is largely voluntary, will be in force until the first week of February.
Tokyo reported a record of 2,447 new cases on Thursday, a 50 per cent increase from the previous day — which was also a record day. Japan has attributed over 3,500 deaths to COVID-19, relatively low for a country of 126 million.
It’s crunch time for Tokyo. Organizers say the Olympics will take place, but they are not expected to reveal concrete plans until spring. That’s about the same time the torch relay begins on March 25 with 10,000 runners crisscrossing the country for four months leading to the opening ceremony on July 23.
Pound also hinted athletes should be a high priority for a vaccine because they serve as “role models.” Pound’s comments seem to contradict IOC President Thomas Bach.
Bach said in a visit to Tokyo in November that athletes should be encouraged to get a vaccine, but would not be required to. He also indicated they should not be a priority. Bach said that nurses, doctors and health care workers should be first in line for a vaccine, ahead of healthy, young athletes.
“Athletes are important role models, and by taking the vaccine they can send a powerful message that vaccination is not only about personal health, but also about solidarity and consideration for the well being of others in their communities,” Pound said.
Vaccines could come slowly in Japan
Reports suggest that the vaccine rollout in Japan is likely to be slowed by the need for local clinical trials. Some vaccines might not be readily available until May, although Suga said some would be ready in February.
The Japanese public is becoming skeptical. A poll of 1,200 people last month by national broadcaster NHK showed 63 per cent favoured another postponement or cancellation.
The IOC has said the Olympics, first delayed by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, will not be postponed again and would be cancelled this time.
The budget for the Tokyo Olympics is also soaring. The new official budget is $ 15.4 billion US, which is $ 2.8 billion above the previous budget. The new costs are from the delay.
Several audits by the Japanese government have said the costs are closer to at least $ 25 billion US. The University of Oxford in a study published four months ago said these are the most expensive Summer Olympics on record. This was before the cost of the delay was added.
All but $ 6.7 billion US of Olympic funding is public money.
A new report commissioned by the U.S. government suggests “directed” radio energy likely caused brain injuries to American diplomats posted in Cuba and China.
Yet the report by the National Academy of Sciences in Washington stops short of saying the same about Canadian diplomats and their families in Havana and instead leaves open the possibility of other causes.
The report represents the latest attempt to explain the mysterious illness known as Havana syndrome that started causing headaches, dizziness and cognitive problems in American and Canadian diplomats in Cuba in 2016.
Five Canadian diplomats and their families are now suing Ottawa for more than $ 28 million, saying the federal government failed to protect them, hid crucial information and downplayed the illness.
Global Affairs Canada has previously acknowledged that nine adults and five children from diplomatic families developed unusual illnesses in Havana, with symptoms including nausea, dizziness, headaches and trouble concentrating.
While the Canadian government has said it is trying to pinpoint the cause, speculation has largely focused on some kind of acoustic or microwave assault, an unknown contaminant such as a pesticide and even chirping crickets.
The National Academy of Sciences report says the symptoms and features of what U.S. diplomats were experiencing were unlike any known disorder, “including those with known infectious, inflammatory or toxic mechanism.”
Rather, the report says, the diplomats’ complaints of experiencing sudden pain, intense pressure in the face, a loud piercing sound in one ear and sudden dizziness and nausea were “more consistent with a directed radio frequency energy attack.”
WATCH | The Fifth Estate investigates what made the diplomats sick:
Jayme Poisson digs into a new Canadian study that tries to solve the mystery of what caused dozens of Canadian and US diplomats in Cuba to become sick. 18:12
“Studies published in the open literature more than a half century ago and over the subsequent decades by Western and Soviet sources provide circumstantial support for this possible mechanism,” it later adds.
Yet the report makes no such assertions on what happened to the Canadians. It instead leaves open the possibility that their illnesses were caused by a viral infection, exposure to a toxic chemical or some other factor.
Lawyer representing Canadians says report has errors
Paul Miller, the lawyer representing the Canadian diplomats suing the government, said that is because there are several errors in the report — including an assertion that the Canadians did not experience the same sudden pain and loud noise as their U.S. counterparts.
“To suggest in any way that our clients did not have the perception of loud sounds or a sensation of intense pressure or vibration is just incorrect,” Miller told The Canadian Press on Sunday. “They all heard things to different degrees. One family heard it quite loudly and suffered pretty immediate injuries. Others heard it and felt unwell within a day or two.
“If that information is corrected, you might see a different conclusion by the U.S. folks.”
Miller noted that the U.S. researchers did not interview the Canadian diplomats. The report instead says it relied on a study by Halifax’s Dalhousie University and available descriptions of the Canadians’ symptoms and complaints.
The Dalhousie study pointed to neurotoxins, such as pesticides used to kill mosquitos during the Zika epidemic, as the most likely reason. Miller’s clients have disputed that finding, saying more people would have suffered the same symptoms if it were true.
The U.S. report comes as the lawsuit between the Canadian diplomats and the federal government remains unresolved, with Miller hoping for a motion brought by the government to have the diplomats excluded heard by the court next year.
Global Affairs Canada did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
There are two black hockey bags sitting in the office of Mike Baumgartner’s home, and he wonders if they will be used again.
Minor hockey associations across Canada have had to cut their seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of them are trying to determine when they will resume and how to make the game safe for children.
Through a statement, Hockey Canada said it will decide when minor hockey will return with the guidance of public health officials. Until then, they “cannot provide an accurate or fair comment on the state of minor hockey.”
It means hockey parents like Baumgartner, who has a son and daughter who play in Laval, Que., nearly 30 minutes north of Montreal, are left wondering if it will be safe to put their children back on the ice.
“I’m on the fence about that. We live with my mom, who’s an older woman. I’m asthmatic, my kids are asthmatic,” Baumgartner said.
Hockey Quebec will send an action plan for minor hockey to the Quebec government at the end of the month.
Hockey Montreal president Yves Pauze confirmed some rule changes that were being discussed, such as teams playing each other at 3-on-3 or 4-on-4, as well as teams playing locally and not participating in tournaments outside of their region.
‘Maybe we won’t even have the numbers’
“As long as we don’t have a vaccine, there won’t be hockey played like how it’s normally played,” Pauze said.
Some local associations, such as one in Kahnawake, 15 minutes away from the Island of Montreal, are bracing for huge drops in enrolment once hockey returns.
Kahnawake Minor Hockey Association board member Lou Ann Stacey said there are over 100 children enrolled annually in her organization. She said parents have indicated through social media that they would rather see no hockey being played than to have their kids play with fewer children on the ice, and some levels might be cancelled altogether as a result.
“What if some parents choose not to send their kids or not to register?” Stacey said. “Maybe we won’t even have the numbers.”
In Ontario, the Peterborough Hockey Association is awaiting news from Hockey Canada, the Ontario Hockey Federation, and the Ontario Minor Hockey Association before proceeding.
PHA president James Bradburn is also keeping an eye out for organizations in other sports such as the Ontario Soccer Association, which recently cancelled sanctioned activities for the month of June. With summer sports like soccer being postponed, it means fall and winter sports will be next to have their fate determined.
“We’re just in a holding pattern,” Bradburn said.
Physical distancing measures off the ice?
Bradburn also anticipates a drop in participation, partially because families might not be able to afford letting their children play.
“You have people who’ve lost their jobs, can they afford it?” Bradburn said. “Hockey’s not cheap. Registration is $ 600. Throw in the equipment, if you need new equipment, you’re up to $ 1000. It’s a lot of money that may not be on the table for families this coming season.”
While associations determine the best course of action for on-ice play, Baumgartner says he is more concerned with what can be done to enforce physical distancing measures off the ice.
“I’d be more comfortable just getting [my kids] dressed at home, going to the arena, playing the game, and then coming home,” he said. “No interaction, you just play your game and leave.”
Jordan Bateman, an executive with the Langley Minor Hockey Association in British Columbia, suggested ideas for minor hockey in an online article that has circulated around associations across the country.
He feels there will need to be reconfigurations of dressing rooms and entrances to ice surfaces, more hand sanitizers in arenas, limits to physical contact on the ice and having only team officials as spectators in order for minor hockey to safely return.
Even if it means hockey won’t be the same for parents and children as it once was.
“Hockey is a really social sport,” Bateman said. “You get to know the families on your team really well. You become a little team for that year that you’re together. It’s difficult to express how different the sport will be for a year or two if kids can’t be in dressing rooms, if you can’t travel for tournaments, if you can’t have your full team come back because of money issues.”
With a flu-like illness outbreak, four dead and confirmed cases of COVID-19, it’s been a horrific week for the 1,243 passengers — including 247 Canadians — stuck aboard the Zaandam, a Holland America Line cruise ship that was sailing off the coast of Panama.
Now, passengers can add more problems to the list: although Panama allowed the Zaandam to pass through the Panama Canal, passengers still don’t know for certain where the cruise ship will dock, and when they’ll be able to return home.
That’s because while the ship has plans to dock and let passengers disembark in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., county officials in the region are concerned about letting in a coronavirus-hit ship.
“They’re not wanting us there, so where are we going to go?” said passenger Cheryle Stothard of Toronto. She and her husband have been confined to their cabin for the past week, because of the illness outbreak.
“Going through the Panama Canal is useless if we can’t get off in Florida,” said the 71-year-old.
Since cutting short its South American cruise on March 14 due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, the Zaandam has been seeking a place to dock so passengers can return home.
On Friday, Holland America announced that 138 passengers and crew have fallen ill with “influenza-like illness symptoms,” and that four “older” passengers had died. The Zaandam is also carrying 586 crew members — one of whom is Canadian.
None of the dead is Canadian. Holland America didn’t provide a cause of death for the four passengers but said that the ship tested “a number” of patients for COVID-19 on Thursday, and two were positive.
Passengers grew hopeful on the weekend after learning that the Zaandam could pass through the Panama Canal. Late Sunday, the ship began moving through the canal.
But Holland America’s plan to then dock in Fort Lauderdale isn’t a done deal because Broward County, which includes the city, has yet to give the green light.
Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine told CBC News that the county is already overrun with COVID-19 cases — more than 1,000 to date — so he’s apprehensive about letting in a ship that will add to its problems.
“We’re a hotspot here. Our medical facilities are taxed,” said Udine. “If there are sick people that have to come off, I want them to be able to come off … but where are they going to go? What hospitals are going to be able to take them?”
‘Somebody’s got to let us dock’
Udine’s apprehension is upsetting for passenger Margaret Tilley, who’s desperate to return to her home in Nanaimo, B.C.
“Let’s have a little compassion,” said the 71-year-old. “It just doesn’t seem right. Somebody’s got to let us dock.”
The Zaandam began its cruise on March 7 and had initially planned to dock on March 16 in Punta Arenas, Chile, to let passengers off early. However, the country refused to allow passengers to disembark, so the ship set course for Fort Lauderdale.
On Saturday, Tilley and her husband were moved to the Zaandam’s sister ship, the Rotterdam. Holland America sent the ship, along with medical personnel and supplies, to rendezvous with the Zaandam and transfer “healthy” passengers to the Rotterdam.
Just let us get straight from the boat to a vehicle and to the airport. We don’t want to stay in Fort Lauderdale.– Margaret Tilley, passenger
Both ships got permission to enter the Panama canal. Tilley said she wants Broward County to know that the healthy Canadians onboard won’t be a burden and just want to get home.
“Just let us get straight from the boat to a vehicle and to the airport. We don’t want to stay in Fort Lauderdale.”
Udine said that all the passengers would have to be quarantined upon arrival, because some could be asymptomatic.
“There’s a lot of things that are going to need to be worked out by this cruise ship before they simply get disembarking in Broward County.”
Udine said the county will review a plan for how Holland America will handle the situation and likely make a decision soon.
Meanwhile, more passengers are reporting illnesses. Stothard said that she and her husband Tony have both developed a runny nose and cough. That means they must remain in their cabin, on board the Zaandam along with other ill passengers, who are in isolation.
“We’ve got to get off,” said Stothard. “The longer we stay on here, the more cases we’re going to have.”
Why did they go on a cruise?
Some CBC readers wondered why passengers boarded a cruise on March 7 when COVID-19 was spreading globally.
CBC News asked several Canadian passengers aboard the Zaandam this question. They responded that when they started their journey, there were very few COVID-19 cases in South America.
A dramatic feature of the sex abuse summit now underway at the Vatican has been the testimony of eight victims from around the world anonymously recounting their experience of abuse.
But the Vatican has no idea of if the victims' abusers are still active as priests, a main organizer of the summit told CBC News.
Father Hans Zollner told CBC that none of the people who gave testimony at the four-day conference told the Vatican who their abusers were or where their cases had been dealt with.
When asked if the Vatican had looked into whether the priests accused by the victims are still in active ministry, Zollner, a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and president of the Center for the Protection of Minors at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said: "No, they [the victims] have not disclosed it to me and my understanding is that maybe they don't know [if the priests are still active in the Church]. But I can't say because I don't know it."
Zollner said all but one of the victims the Vatican chose to provide testimony to a closed-door room of bishops wanted to protect their anonymity.
"They went to great effort not to reveal any detail," Zollner said. "In some cases the family doesn't know that they have been abused. In some places it would destroy the family. It would destroy their professional career and so forth."
When CBC sent a text message later asking Zollner if he wanted to further comment on his statement that the Vatican had not verified the victims' accounts since none had identified an abuser to the Vatican, he responded that was "not accurate."
When asked to be more specific, his answers were vague.
He said the victims he was in contact with "did not disclose where their proceedings are," adding that the victims were "verified by the people on the ground who had first contact with them."
When asked what that meant, he did not respond.
Marie Collins, an Irish sexual abuse survivor and former member of the Pontifical Commission for Protection of Minors, says the fact that the Vatican does not know if the predatory priests of these eight victims are still active in the Catholic Church undermines the credibility of the whole event.
Marie Collins, an Irish sexual abuse survivor, is pictured in 2012. She questions the credibility of the church if it does not know if the abusive priests are still in ministry. (Andrew Medichini/Associated Press)
"I find it beyond belief that they could put forward eight survivors and not know who the perpetrators are," said Collins.
"It's not that I'm doubting any of these people. From what I've heard, it sounds like they are genuine survivors," said Collins. "But I'm just totally thrown at the idea that the Vatican would present eight survivors to a conference at this level and not have taken any interest whether their abusers have been removed from ministry or the church or in any way sanctioned. It's mind-boggling."
Survivors' groups have been critical of the way in which the Vatican selected sexual abuse victims to testify at the conference, which has as its theme bringing responsibility, accountability and transparency to how the Catholic Church and its bishops around the world deal with sexual abuse of children by priests.
Pope Francis called the unprecedented meeting of some 200 top bishops, Vatican officials and a small number of nuns to help the church hierarchy confront what he has called the scourge of sexual abuse by the clergy.
Sex abuse survivors and members of the group Ending Clergy Abuse hold a wooden cross as they march in downtown Rome on Saturday. (Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)
Survivors who have gathered outside the conference in Rome this week have called the Vatican's process of selecting victims to testify of their abuse secretive. They've asked why the Vatican presented most survivors in recorded form rather than in person and why organizers chose only people who wished to remain anonymous to recount their abuse by priests.
Marie Collins added she is also concerned about the mental and emotional health of the people the Vatican chose to provide video testimony of their assaults.
"If victims are at the point in their coming to terms with their abuse that they're still unable to name their perpetrator, then in no way should they be asked to do something like this," she said.
When asked by CBC if all the priests accused by the Vatican's selected victims had been permanently removed from active ministry in the Catholic Church, another organizer of the bishops' summit, Archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna, a former top prosecutor for sex abuse at the Vatican, said, "I do not have that information."
"I will try to find out because that's a very important point," he said. "But I don't know."
He said Zollner was the one who contacted and selected the victims who provided testimony for the first three days of the meetings that ended late Saturday.