Paralympians susceptible to ‘significant consequences’ of COVID-19

Australia’s Paralympic contingent will likely be at “even greater risk” of coronavirus infection during the 12 days of competition in Tokyo, according to the team’s chief medical officer.

Paralympics Australia is continuing to educate more than 300 athletes and officials about the inherent risks of travelling to Japan for competition two weeks after the Olympics finish.

The Paralympics are due to begin two weeks after the Olympics in Tokyo.Credit:AP

The Australian Olympic Committee has already indicated it expects up to 100 COVID-positive athletes could be circulating in the Games village for the Olympics.

Paralympic officials are also dealing with the complexity of overseas travel for people with underlying health conditions.

“I suspect there’s probably even greater risk [for Paralympians],” said Dr Rachel Harris, chief medical officer for the Australian team.

“One thing is that we know that COVID has around about a 14-day transmission period, or potential infectivity [incubation] period.

“We know that the Olympic Games are going to be held … just two weeks prior to the Paralympic Games.

“If there’s an outbreak then it’s possible there will be even more COVID in Japan when we arrive as a team, so that’s one concern. We also do have a number of our athletes that do have underlying medical conditions related to their impairment.

“It might be a result of medical conditions or even as a result of an accidents, and things like that, which make them a) more susceptible to getting COVID and then b) more susceptible to having more significant consequences.

“That’s something we certainly needed to be more careful about.

“We’ve been pretty open and honest with our athletes and officials from the beginning and what we see as the perceived risks.

“Here is Australia, whilst we think we’ve been impacted by COVID, compared to [how] other people have been impacted around the world, our life is relatively normal.

“We need to help our athletes to understand what it will be like. We don’t want them learning about how to deal with COVID when they’re at the Games, we want them to be understanding that now. We don’t want to be learning in the situation where infection risk is high.”

Officials have welcomed the news that Australia’s Olympic and Paralympic contingent will have priority access to vaccines, even though numerous Paralympic athletes and officials were already eligible as members of priority group 1b.

“Knowing that the rest of the team will be covered will be excellent,” said Harris.

“The other good part about it is the fact that the athletes will be getting Pfizer vaccinations, which we know will cover off on some of the other strains, for example the South African strain which we know will be prevalent.

“Many of our athletes in the 1b rollout already that have been to try and get vaccinated because they understand the significant risks of going into the Games and they’ve, for one reason or another, haven’t been able to go ahead with it [and get vaccinated].

“It might have been that there’s been GPs that are concerned with the clot risk or things like that. It just gives our athletes a lot more certainty.”

Officials are acutely aware that athletes and staff must remain healthy for safe passage back to Australia.

“We’ve also been very clear with our team members that we make sure that it’s not only [about] getting to your competition without a problem, but it’s also getting home,” said Harris.

“We’ve needed to reiterate and educate to our athletes that we need to test negative before you get on that plane coming back to Australia.

“Once your event is finished, it can’t be that you let your hair down. And it can’t be like that previous games experience that you might have had unfortunately.

“We just need to keep our guard up the whole time so we can get to our event, and then also get home in a safe manner.

“We don’t want to be in Tokyo for a prolonged period of time because that is a very real possibility if you do test positive to COVID.”

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