On Saturday, the Olympic organizers in Tokyo reported the first case of COVID-19 in the sports village, along with 14 other new cases linked to the games starting next week, which raises new doubts about promises of a “safe and secure” event.
The recent COVID-19 events are a blow to local organizers and the International Olympic Committee, which has insisted that the Games will not be a super-spreading event.
Tokyo organizers confirmed that a visitor from abroad who worked for the Olympics had tested positive in a routine check on Friday. The person’s nationality was not revealed due to privacy concerns.
The other cases involved two media, seven contractors and five gaming staff.
The case in the sports village, a 44-hectare building on the shores of Tokyo, is particularly worrying as the majority of the 11,000 competitors will stay there.
IOC President Thomas Bach, who faced stark opposition to an Olympic Games days before it began, acknowledged concerns among the Japanese public but urged them to welcome the athletes.
Bach said he hoped domestic sporting success could help shift the mood from what he said bordered on the aggressive to something more supportive.
“We are well aware of the skepticism that a number of people have here in Japan. We pray and humbly invite the Japanese people to welcome and support athletes from around the world,” Bach told a news conference.
“We are also convinced that when the Japanese people will see the Japanese athletes perform successfully in the Olympics, then the attitude may become less emotional.”
Originally intended to demonstrate Japan’s recovery from the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster, the Tokyo Olympics have become an exercise in damage control.
Postponed for a year due to the global pandemic, it is mostly held without spectators and under strict quarantine rules. Most athletes start arriving at the Games, which run from July 23 to August 8.
The Japanese public has been wary of hosting the Games at all in a resurgence of new coronavirus infections and worries that an influx of visitors could create a super-spreading event, straining an already stretched medical system.
Only about 20% of the population is fully vaccinated
Although Japan has escaped other nations’ explosive outbreaks, it has registered more than 820,000 cases and about 15,000 deaths. The number of new cases in the host city of Tokyo, which is in its fourth state of emergency due to the virus, has been over 1,000 for four straight days.
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto also acknowledged public concern.
“I understand that there are still many worrying factors. Organizers must try to make people understand that these games are safe,” she told a news conference on Saturday.
To date, more than 40 people involved in the games, including Japanese and foreigners, have tested positive for the virus.
Toshiro Muto, head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said on Saturday that officials were working on the assumption that there would be positive COVID-19 cases.
An important part of the anti-infective measures is daily saliva testing of participating athletes, as well as frequent testing of others involved in the event. Visitors’ movements must also be monitored and restricted.
But in a sign that the organizers already found rules that were difficult to enforce, the Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko disappeared from his team’s training ground in Osaka on Friday.
According to the game organizers, the authorities are still looking for him. Media reports say he left a note saying he wanted to stay and work in Japan because life in Uganda was difficult.