Tokyo Olympics: Hottest summer awaits athletes amid COVID concerns in Japan

Experts have warned of the risk from heatstroke for athletes and staff, especially those unused to Tokyo's heat or those working long hours outside.

A general view of the Fukushima Azuma Stadium three days before the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games begin.   -  Getty Images

Mist-spraying stations for Olympic horses and cooling vests for referees are among the tools organisers are rolling out for the Tokyo 2020 Games, where participants will face scorching heat and intense humidity - on top of a worsening pandemic.

While the immediate challenge of holding the Games amid the COVID-19 crisis has overshadowed almost all other concerns, heat has been a longstanding worry. Summer temperatures in Tokyo can spike to 35 degree Celsius or more.

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"There will be cooling stations not just for human beings but also for horses," Tokyo 2020 Games Delivery Officer Hidemasa Nakamura told reporters on Sunday. "For volunteers, we have salt candies, tablets and ice cream."

While organisers have moved the marathon and race-walk events to the cooler northern city of Sapporo, experts have warned of the risk from heatstroke for athletes and staff, especially those unused to Tokyo's heat or those working long hours outside.

As temperatures rise following the annual rainy season that just ended, so does the risk of heat stroke, said Motoaki Takekawa, an official in the atmosphere environment division of the Japan Meteorological Agency.

The Games run from July 23 to August 8, coinciding with the hottest temperatures in the country.

Emergency medicine experts have warned that first responders at the Games could easily confuse heatstroke and coronavirus patients, because the illnesses bear similar symptoms such as high temperature and dehydration.

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"For foreign athletes, they are not used to Japan's hot weather," said Satoru Takizawa, a 25-year-old Tokyo office worker, who said the conditions "were not fair" to visitors.

Medical staff stationed at venues are at risk of heat illness themselves, because of their extra protective equipment, according to Shoji Yokobori, the medical officer in charge of the weightlifting venue.

He said the personal protective equipment became "a burden" in the heat.

"PPE is very tough," he said. "We may have heatstroke."

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