Team GB’s Olympic plans have been thrown into disarray by news that six track and field athletes, two athletics staff members and two headquarters staff members have been forced to isolate in Japan after they were identified as close contacts of positive Covid cases.
All are now shut inside their rooms at Team GB’s preparation camp hotel in Yokohama or the Olympic Village, with the athletes unable to train less than a week from the start of the Tokyo Games.
The eight-strong athletics contingent were identified as close contacts after someone unconnected to Team GB on their flight to Japan on Thursday was found to have Covid. The British group all tested negative on arrival and have continued to do so every day since, but they remain in isolation as per Tokyo Games guidelines.
The identity of those affected has not been revealed due to medical confidentiality, but it is understood that world champions Dina Asher-Smith and Katarina Johnson-Thompson, and medal hopefuls Laura Muir and Jemma Reekie have not yet flown into Japan.
There is no set length of time a competitor must isolate for once identified as a close contact, with cases “considered on an individual basis”.
The Tokyo Games athletes’ playbook states close contacts among athletes will “need to follow enhanced countermeasures, including daily negative nasopharyngeal PCR test results and further minimising contact with others, for example moving to a private room, eating meals alone, using dedicated vehicles and separation during training”.
It is understood the six athletes will be able to return to some form of training if they provide two negative PCR tests in the next 48 hours.
Fortunately for those affected, athletics is one of the last Olympic sports to begin in Tokyo with the programme not starting until July 30. However, any period away from training at this late stage is certain to prove hugely detrimental physically and mentally.
The Telegraph has also learned that two further Team GB headquarters staff members are isolating in their rooms at the Olympic Village after they were identified as close contacts of someone who tested positive after a separate inbound flight on Tuesday.
All six athletes and four staff members affected are being closely monitored by the British medical team and its chief medical officer.
“This is disappointing news for the athletes and staff, but we absolutely respect the protocols in place,” said Team GB’s chef de mission Mark England. “We will offer them every support during this period and we are hopeful that they will be able resume training again soon.”
Fears for the safety of athletes competing at the Tokyo Games have grown in recent days as the number of people failing Covid tests has increased to 55 in total, including three within the Olympic Village.
The Team GB contingent of 376 athletes and more than 500 support staff has yet to be struck by a positive case, but the latest news will raise major concerns for more than a hundred British athletes due to fly into the country over the next 10 days.
Team GB Covid protocol goes beyond that required by the Tokyo Games organisers, with every member of the British contingent tested regularly for a fortnight leading up to departure in addition to the compulsory pre-entry tests to be allowed into Japan.
The Team GB preparation training camp in nearby Yokohama has even been jokingly compared to a prison by athletes this week, so strict are Covid guidelines.
But news of so many Team GB members being forced to isolate due to their proximity to people unconnected to the Olympics will only highlight the jeopardy inherent in every athlete’s trip over to Japan.
On Sunday, two members of the South African men’s football team became the first athletes in the Olympic Village to test positive for Covid.
Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi failed tests, alongside the team’s video analyst Mario Masha, who tested positive on arrival in Tokyo. The entire South Africa squad is now in quarantine awaiting further test results before their opening game against Japan on Thursday.
“This unfortunate situation has made us miss our first intensive training session last night,” said South Africa team manager Mxolisi Sibam.
The International Olympic Committee has been determined to keep the Olympic Village the “safest place” at the Games, with all athletes facing a strict daily testing regime and rigorous protocol in place to prevent mixing.
Anyone who tests positive in the Village is moved into a secure Covid facility on site.
Security staff guard the entrance to the Olympic Village
Tokyo organisers have insisted they have “a plan in place” to respond to any outbreak in the Olympic Village, and IOC executive director Christophe Dubi on Sunday claimed transmission between the various groups there was “almost impossible”.
He said: “Testing is the way to reduce any spread. When we have a positive case, it means action.
“We know there is no such thing as zero-risk, but at the same time the mingling and crossing of populations is very limited.
“With all the measures that are in place, we keep the risk to an absolute minimum level.
“What we have done since cases have appeared at the airport in the Village is make sure they are ring-fenced, tested and do not provide a risk.”
The total number of Covid cases linked to the Tokyo Games since July 1 now stands at 55, while the city of Tokyo recorded its highest number of Covid cases in almost six months with 1,410 new positive tests on Saturday.
Former marathon world record holder Tegla Laroupe, the head of the IOC’s Refugee Olympic Team, will reportedly not travel with the team next week after contracting Covid.
The Refugee Olympic Team had already delayed its arrival into Tokyo after the IOC confirmed an unnamed official returned a positive test. The Associated Press has now reported that official to be Laroupe.
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