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Tokyo 2020 defends request for Olympic nurses as virus spikes

Tokyo Olympics organisers have defended their request for 500 nurses at the pandemic-delayed mega-event, after accusations of diverting crucial medical resources. 

Reports about their request to the Japanese Nursing Association sparked a furious response among social media users on Monday, the day after a coronavirus state of emergency was imposed in the capital.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto confirmed the reports but said discussions were still ongoing, and that organisers would strive to “come up with a feasible way of securing that many nurse resources”.

“One of the key assumptions is you should not deteriorate the service level in the local community by pulling out these nurses, and I have made this point very clear,” Muto told reporters.

Parts of Japan have seen a recent resurgence in Covid-19 cases, driven by more infectious new variants.

A virus state of emergency came into force in Tokyo and three other regions on Sunday, less than three months before the Olympic opening ceremony on July 23.

The hashtag “request for 500 nurses” was trending on Twitter in Japan on Monday, with many users scathing.

“This isn’t a joke, people will die because of the Olympics,” wrote one user.

“Are you looking to kill frontline medical workers?” wrote another.

Muto denied that the request was made “behind the scenes”, and said “careful and meticulous discussions” would be needed to fine-tune the details.

“We need to come up with a way to coexist,” he said. “That’s what I mean with being flexible with working hours and shifts and so on. We are consulting about that.”

Organisers are already struggling to drum up public support for the Games, with polls showing a majority of Japanese support cancellation or further postponement.

Overseas spectators have already been banned from the event over fears of the virus spreading, and a decision on how many domestic fans will be allowed into venues is expected soon.

Japan has had some success containing COVID-19, with just over 10,000 deaths despite never imposing strict lockdown measures.

But cases surged over the winter and have rebounded since the previous state of emergency was lifted in March.

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