In a world divided by access to vaccines, social restrictions aimed at limiting human contact, and an ever-changing maze of border closures that continue to keep people apart, the head of the World Health Organization said he hopes the Olympic Games in Tokyo could represent a moment of global solidarity.
“The Olympics have the power to bring the world together, to inspire, to show what’s possible,” the agency’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told the International Olympic Committee on Wednesday.
Holding an Olympic torch aloft, he sought to strike a note of optimism even as the world confronts yet more waves of infection and uncertainty.
“May the rays of hope from this land illuminate a new dawn for a healthy, safer and fairer world,” he said.
But even as he spoke, the virus continued to stalk the sporting contest.
A Chilean taekwondo athlete, Fernanda Aguirre, was ruled out of action after testing positive for the virus, according to a statement from Chile’s National Olympic Committee. A Dutch skateboarder, Candy Jacobs, also announced on Wednesday that she had tested positive and was out of the Games.
With the opening ceremony still two days away, thousands of athletes, coaches, referees and other officials have poured into Japan in recent days. More than 70 people affiliated with the Games have tested positive, according to organizers, including five within the Olympic Village.
With less than a quarter of the Japanese public fully vaccinated, there is intense opposition to the Games in a nation that fears they could turn into a superspreader event.
Mr. Tedros said that it was always highly unlikely that there would be no infections at the Olympics, only that the spread of the virus could be mitigated.
Success did not require “zero cases,” he said. “The mark of success is making sure that any cases are identified, isolated, traced and cared for as quickly as possible, and onward transmission is interrupted. That is the mark of success for every country.”
Even as he warned that the world was “now in the early stages of another wave of infections and deaths,” Mr. Tedros said that stopping the worst ravages of the epidemic would take greater political unity than governments have so far mustered. He called the world’s failure to more equitably distribute vaccines “a moral outrage” and “epidemiologically and economically self-defeating.”
But the gathering of athletes in Japan, he said, could perhaps provide some inspiration for a divided planet.
“It is my sincere hope the Tokyo Games succeed,” he said.