Japan's nurses protest against request to deploy them to Tokyo Olympic Games

The widely shared picture of an unnamed nurse holding up a sign that says: “We are not expendable pawns.” PHOTO: IROUREN/TWITTER
Nurses have reportedly quit in droves due to excessive overwork, low wages, intense stress, and the trauma of patients dying on them. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Japan's nurses on Wednesday (April 28) protested against a request by Olympic organisers for 500 of them to be deployed to the Games, saying that they are "not expendable pawns" to be diverted for a "non-essential" event.

Impassioned tweets poured in from irate medical workers as the hashtag "problematic to dispatch nurses for the Games" trended on Twitter. Many vented their anger over the plan that could deprive Japan of critical medical resources for its Covid-19 fight.

As another hashtag - "protect lives above the Olympics" - trended, they said their responsibility must be to their patients, and called on Japan to "get its priorities straight".

Aichi Medical Workers' Federation, the protest organiser, said: "We've reached our absolute limits. Give us more funding and please, please give us some time to rest and increase staffing."

It added: "We've got absolutely nobody to spare for Tokyo 2020."

A widely shared picture showed an unnamed nurse holding up a sign that said: "We are not expendable pawns."

Media reports on Monday, a day after the third state of emergency was declared in parts of the country, said that Tokyo 2020 organisers had asked the Japanese Nursing Association to deploy 500 nurses to the once-delayed sporting event, which will flag off in less than three months on July 23.

Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto confirmed the reports, but said organisers were striving to "come up with a feasible way of securing that many nurse resources".

"One of the key assumptions is that the service level in the local community should not deteriorate by pulling out these nurses," he said. "We need to come up with a way to co-exist. That's what I mean with being flexible with working hours and shifts."

But Japan is now in its fourth Covid-19 wave that is being driven by more infectious and deadlier variants. There were 5,789 cases on Wednesday, with new one-day records set in Osaka (1,260 cases) and Fukuoka (440 cases). Tokyo logged 925 infections in its highest figure since Jan 28.

Yet Japan still suffers from problems that emerged in the first wave last year, including a chronic shortage of healthcare workers and hospital beds. It has said it will enlist the help of dentists and military medics to administer vaccines.

Nurses have reportedly quit in droves due to excessive overwork, low wages, intense stress, and the trauma of patients dying on them.

The Urasoe General Hospital in Okinawa saw 77 nurses quit in the fiscal year ending March with only 35 new hires, which means a manpower shortage of over 40 people.

The Tokyo Women's Medical University has reportedly had at least 400 nurses and 100 doctors quit over the past year.

Dr Shigeru Omi, who heads a government Covid-19 panel, said on Wednesday that it was "time to firmly discuss the Games, with the spread of infections and burden on hospitals as the most important factors".

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.