Tokyo Olympics organisers said on Saturday that a person has tested positive for Covid-19 at the athletes’ village, the first case at a site where most competitors will be staying, raising new doubts over promises of a "safe and secure" Games.
The organisers confirmed that a visitor from abroad who is involved in organising the Games had tested positive during a routine test on Friday. The person’s nationality was not revealed due to privacy concerns.
The 2020 Games, postponed for a year due to the global pandemic, is being held mostly without spectators and under tight quarantine rules.
Japan’s public has been lukewarm about the Games amid a resurgence in new coronavirus infections and worries that an influx of visitors may create a super-spreader event, straining an already-stretched medical system. Only around 20% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto acknowledged the public’s concerns.
"I understand that there are still many worrying factors. Organisers must try to make sure that people will understand that these games are safe and secure," she told a news conference on Saturday.
So far, more than 40 people involved in the Games, including both domestic and foreign nationals, have tested positive. The latest case is the first at the 44-hectare athletes’ village on Tokyo’s waterfront, which is where a majority of the 11,000 competitors will be staying.
Athletes are just starting to arrive for the Games which run from July 23 until Aug 8.
A key part of the anti-contagion measures is daily saliva testing of the athletes who take part, as well as frequent testing of others involved in the event. Visitors’ movements are also due to be monitored and restricted.
But in a sign that organisers were already finding rules difficult to enforce, Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko went missing from his team’s training site in Osaka on Friday.
Authorities are still looking for him, according to Games organisers. Media reports said he left behind a note saying he wanted to stay and work in Japan, as life in Uganda was difficult.
What is the Covid situation in Japan?
Japan has not experienced the kind of explosive Covid-19 outbreaks seen elsewhere but has had more than 800,000 cases and 14,800 deaths. New Covid cases in Tokyo were reported at 1,410 on Saturday, the most since January 21.
On Friday, a Nigerian Olympic official became the first foreigner to be taken to hospital after testing positive, taking the number of Olympics-linked infections in Japan to 30 since July 1.
Preparations for the Games have been shrouded in concerns about the impact of Covid-19 as authorities have struggled to stamp out persistent clusters of infections, particularly in and around Tokyo.
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Does Japan want the Olympics?
In recent polls, support seems to be increasing for holding the Olympics, though opposition is strong, depending how the question is worded.
An Asahi newspaper poll of June 19-20 of almost 1,500 people showed 62 per cent supported another postponement or cancellation of the games. But about one-third supported holding the Olympics, up from 14 per cent in May in the same poll.
In the same survey, 83 per cent said they "feel uneasy" that the Olympics might spread the virus. The poll said 53 per cent wanted no fans and 42 per cent said attendance should be limited.
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What are the rules for athletes – will they be vaccinated and tested?
Olympics organisers will hand every athlete a Samsung smartphone, if they do not already own a smartphone, allowing them to download two apps for health reporting and contact tracing. Non-compliance with the "playbook" – a set of rules applying to all participants, which includes direction on travel, eating and general moving around during the Games – will lead to disciplinary action, and an athlete who intentionally refuses to take a test when requested could face expulsion from the Games.
The British government has assured GB athletes they will be jabbed in time for Tokyo 2021 after taking advantage of the special deal struck between the Olympics and Pfizer-BioNTech.
To avoid a potential ethical debate around athletes being fast-tracked over others, the Government has utilised the memorandum of understanding between the IOC and Pfizer-BioNTech. Under the agreement in March, vaccines would be made available for all those going to Tokyo.
Vaccination will not exempt Team GB from regular Covid-19 testing at the Games. All participants will be required to record two negative tests before arriving in Japan, they will not be allowed to use public transport, and they would be able to eat only in designated areas, such as in their hotel restaurant, venues and their rooms.
Athletes will also need to wear masks within venues almost at all times, including during medal ceremonies. About 95 per cent of Japan’s 600 Olympic athletes and 1,000 support staff are expected to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
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Olympians will put medals around their own necks as Tokyo 2020 breaks with hundreds of years of ceremonial tradition due to Covid-19 fears, writes Tom Morgan. Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee president, confirmed the “very significant change” was necessary just over a week before the Games open.
Medals will be presented on a tray handled by an official “only with disinfected gloves” to recipients on the podium. Even though many of the 339 events will be outdoors, a heightened state of anxiety in Japan has prompted organisers to go to great lengths to limit contact.
“The medals will not be given around the neck,” Bach said. “They will be presented to the athlete on a tray and then the athlete will take the medal him or herself.”
The medal protocol is the latest in a host of tough measures aimed at easing concern among a local population that has campaigned for the Games to be cancelled. A state of emergency was imposed until after the Games end on Aug 8, and Japan on Wednesday recorded 1,149 new Covid-19 cases, its most since January 22.
As a result, officials have imposed Olympic “bubbles” for athletes and staff and introduced approaches that are stricter than for almost all other sporting competitions since the pandemic began. Aleksander Ceferin, the Uefa president, had hung medals around the necks of players at competition finals in recent weeks.
Ceferin also shook hands with Italy’s penalty-saving goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma at the Euro 2020 medal and trophy presentation at Wembley. However, Bach said that in Tokyo “there will be no shaking hands and there will be no hugs there during the ceremony”.
Meanwhile, athletes have been warned not to make “political demonstrations” or express their private views on the medal podium.
The IOC this month relaxed its Rule 50, which had previously forbidden athletes from any protests but now allows them to make gestures on the field, provided they do so without disruption and with respect for fellow competitors.
Team GB women’s football team this week confirmed they will take a knee ahead of kick-off in their Olympic matches in support of the fight against racism and discrimation.
However, there remains a threat of sanctions if any protests are made on the medal podium during the Games.
“The podium and the medal ceremonies are not made… for a political or other demonstration,” International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told the Financial Times.
“They are made to honour the athletes and the medal winners for sporting achievement and not for their private [views].
“The mission is to have the entire world together at one place and competing peacefully with each other. This you would never manage if the Games [became] divisive.”
Will fans be allowed in venues?
In short, no. The head of Team GB says it is vital the Tokyo Olympics go ahead, despite admitting his “sadness and regret” that spectators will be shut out of all events in the Japan capital.
Olympic organisers confirmed on Thursday that all events taking place in Tokyo would do so behind closed doors after the city declared a state of emergency following a rise in Covid-19 cases.
Foreign spectators had already been banned from the Games, but locals had previously been told they would be allowed to attend. That might now only be the case at the small number of events being held elsewhere. Tokyo 2020 have since said a total of 26 sessions would take place in front of fans.
Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister, said the majority ban on fans was essential to prevent further growth in infections, with a slow vaccine rollout meaning only 15 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated.
Andy Anson, British Olympic Association chief executive, said: “It is sad when we’ve been watching the Euros and seeing how exciting live sport can be with fans back in stadiums. It really does bring a lot of happiness to people.
“We have a lot of sadness and regret around that decision for the Japanese people in particular, because it’s a massive thing to host an Olympic Games. I find it very sad for them that they aren’t going to have the experiences we had at London in 2012.”
Asked whether it was now at a stage where the Olympics should still be going ahead, Anson said: “The thing we care the most about is that these athletes who have trained so hard get their chance to compete at the pinnacle of their sport. That’s why this is important.
“To pull that away now would be outrageous given the amount of work and effort that has gone into it.”
The Team GB delegation face stricter protocols than almost any other nation in Tokyo due to concern about the delta variant that has spread rapidly in Britain.
Of the 376 athletes named in the team, Anson confirmed only about 10 would not be vaccinated. Of the 1,000 people who make up the entire Team GB travelling party, 92 per cent will be double vaccinated.
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What are the financial implications?
The financial considerations of a postponed Olympics are astronomical. Tokyo 2020 was already shaping up to be the most expensive Summer Olympics ever staged, but costs are reported to have increased by over £2bn due to measures needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The total figure now stands at around £11bn.
The IOC is known to have insurance cover, underwritten by Lloyd’s of London. From a British perspective, the pandemic and 12-month delay meant two major funding concerns: sports at serious risk of collapse due to total lack of revenue streams, and the continuation of the high-performance system that funds elite Olympic medal contenders. At the start of July, the Government then provided assurances that funding levels would be extended for another year.
The IOC receives almost 75 per cent of its income from selling broadcast rights to televise the Olympics, and it has been estimated that it would lose between $3 billion and $4 billion if the Games were cancelled.
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When does the opening ceremony start – and how will it work?
The opening ceremony will take place as planned on Friday, July 23 at 8pm local time (noon GMT) but, under a best-case-scenario, the IOC was previously understood to be expecting just 6,000 athletes at the opening ceremony, down from an initial figure of about 11,000 from 200 nations. The closing ceremony takes place on August 8 at the same time. Both ceremonies are scheduled to run for three hours at the Olympic Stadium.
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What date do the Olympics end?
The Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games will end on August 8, drawing to a close 19 days of sporting action. There will be eight sports contested on the final day: athletics, volleyball, water polo, track cycling, rhythmic gymnastics, handball and basketball and boxing before the closing ceremony runs from 8pm local time (noon GMT).
When are the Tokyo 2021 Paralympics?
The Tokyo 2021 Paralympics will run from Tuesday, Aug 24 to Sunday, Sept 5. It will be the second time Tokyo has hosted the Paralympics following the Games in 1964. There will be 540 events in 22 sports across the 13 days.