Tokyo Olympics: Games going ahead 'absurd idea' - epidemiologist Michael Baker

Wednesday marked 100 days until the Tokyo Olympics, but one of the country's leading epidemiologists says it's "absurd" the event is still going ahead.

With Tokyo reporting more than 500 cases a day, Professor Michael Baker says officials here now face an ethical question over whether New Zealand should attend.

He believes vaccinated Kiwi athletes will be safe, but our Olympic Committee says it won't consider forcing athletes to get a jab.

Hammer thrower Julia Ratcliffe just missed out on selection for Rio in 2016, but after a gold medal-winning performance at the Commonwealth Games, the Kiwi is a genuine medal prospect in Tokyo.

There is one thing threatening her dreams - the global COVID-19 pandemic.

"The biggest concern for athletes will be themselves staying healthy," Ratcliffe tells Newshub. "If you return a positive test, you will be pulled, even if it's the day before or day of [competition]."

The Games are creating a storm within local Japanese media, as questions continue to be raised about the safety of athletes and locals alike.

On Saturday, Tokyo reported 570 new cases - the fourth straight day over 500.

Baker says the pin should be pulled on the Olympics.

"I think the idea of bringing people from all around the world in a global pandemic is a very bad idea," Baker says. "I think it's absurd in the current environment." 

Michael Baker
Michael Baker Photo credit: AM Show

Baker says, for New Zealand, attendance is an ethical question and he's not alone. 

Japanese medical experts say the Olympics are best cancelloed, given the considerable risks, and that Japan is a dangerous and unsafe country.

Japan has lost 9000 people to COVID so far and the vaccination progress is extremely slow.

Surveys show up to 80 percent of people in Japan don't want the Games to go ahead.

The New Zealand Olympic Committee looks at safety measures daily, running COVID webinars and sorting through several logistical nightmares. 

"If things take over for some reason and the Games aren't able to happen, then so be it," says NZOC boss Kerryn Smith. "But we will do everything we possibly can to ensure the athletes are safe." 

Kiwi athletes will receive fast-tracked vaccinations to ensure they are safe, but that doesn't mean they all will.

Smith says enforcing mandatory vaccinations are currently "not a consideration".

Competitors will be in strict bubbles and no overseas fans will be allowed in, and they'll also be forced to leave Japan within 48 hours of their event.

Some would say the heart's been taken away from the Olympic Games, but for first-timer Ratcliffe, it's all she has ever wanted.

"For me, it's not just about four years of training," she says. "It's over 16 years of training and hard work - that's half my life." 

Ratcliffe trusts Japan to deliver a safe environment to stage the Olympics, but officials are running out of time, if they're thinking of cancelling with just 100 days to go.