Thousands of athletes and other accredited personnel are entering Japan ahead of the Games, which are set to begin Friday amid a state of emergency due to rising coronavirus cases in the country’s capital. Japan has barred all spectators from Olympic events in and around Tokyo in an effort to curb the spread of the virus, but public support for the Games remains lukewarm.
So far, 55 people affiliated with the Games have tested positive for the coronavirus since the committee began tracking infections earlier this month.
Officials said Sunday that they are working to minimize risk as quickly as possible when an individual tests positive, isolating the person and anyone else who had close contact with them. Those who test positive or come in close contact must train separately, be transported individually and have meals delivered to their individual rooms. After a certain number of tests and amount of time appropriate for each case, the individual can return to compete.
Olympic officials said they are creating a “covid safe” environment to ensure that positive cases will not spread throughout the Games, and noted that the opportunity for the residents of the Village and the general Japanese public to interact is “incredibly limited.”
“It is unavoidable that we have some cases — we have some cases. What is needed is some swift actions,” Christophe Dubi, Olympic Games executive director for the International Olympic Committee, said in a news conference Sunday. “I don’t think we can ever say ‘covid free’ — I don’t think we said it. Covid safe is a different approach. … It’s a covid-safe environment, and they are really insistent on this.”
More than 18,000 athletes, officials and journalists have arrived in Japan since July 1 for the Games, which were postponed a year because of the global pandemic. Officials said that between 6,000 and 9,000 athletes and related personnel will reside in the Village at any given point during the Games.
Those arriving from overseas are tested for the coronavirus before taking off and after landing in Tokyo. International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who has been the subject of repeated criticism over holding the Games during the pandemic, last week promised that there is “zero” risk that the virus would spread through the Olympic Village or beyond, citing the fact that everyone who arrives in Japan is tested for it.
Bach on Saturday drew a fresh round of ire amid reports that the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee had plans to host a welcome party for Bach on Sunday evening with 40 guests, including high-profile politicians.
Critics responded online to reports of the welcome event by noting that the state of emergency urges members of the Japanese public not to gather in large numbers.
According to a report Saturday by NHK, those invited include Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, Tokyo Olympic organizing committee president Seiko Hashimoto and former Olympics chief Yoshiro Mori, who resigned in February over sexist remarks he made about women.
When asked about the welcome event during a news conference Saturday, Bach noted that he was invited as a guest, rather than an organizer, of the gathering.
Meanwhile, local officials in Osaka said a Ugandan athlete who had gone missing from a training camp there left a note that he intended to stay in Japan because of difficulties living back home, according to local media. The Ugandan athlete did not show up for a coronavirus test on Friday and had been reported missing. Local officials said they found the note in his place of accommodation.