Publication date: Jan 17, 2024
The COVID-19 pandemic profoundly affected all mass gatherings for sporting and religious events, causing cancellation, postponement, or downsizing. On March 24, 2020, the Japanese Government, the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the International Olympic Committee decided to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games until the summer of 2021. With the emergence of SARS-CoV-2, the potential creation of a superspreading event that would overwhelm the Tokyo health system was perceived as a risk. Even with a delayed start date, an extensive scale of resources, planning, risk assessment, communication, and SARS-CoV-2 testing were required for the Games to be held during the COVID-19 pandemic. The effectiveness of various mitigation and control measures, including the availability of vaccines and the expansion of effective testing options, allowed event organisers and the Japanese Government to successfully host the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games from July 23 to Aug 8, 2021 with robust safety plans in place. In February and March, 2022, Beijing hosted the 2022 Winter Olympic Games as scheduled, built on the lessons learnt from the Tokyo Games, and developed specific COVID-19 countermeasure plans in the context of China’s national framework for the plan called Zero COVID. Results from the testing programmes at both the Tokyo and Beijing Games show that the measures put in place were effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 within the Games, and ensured that neither event became a COVID-19-spreading event. The extensive experience from the Tokyo and Beijing Olympic Games highlights that it is possible to organise mass gatherings during a pandemic, provided that appropriate risk assessment, risk mitigation, and risk communication arrangements are in place, leaving legacies for future mass gatherings, public health, epidemic preparedness, and wider pandemic response.