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Little fanfare as Tokyo enters final Olympic countdown

Members of French handball team arrive at Tokyo international airport in Tokyo on July 15, 2021 to take part in the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. (Photo by Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

TOKYO (AFP) – Tokyo entered the final Olympic countdown on Friday, but there was little fanfare with just one week until the opening ceremony, as virus infections surge in the Japanese capital.

Organizers have been forced to bar spectators from all events in the city and most venues hosting competitions elsewhere in the country.

And Olympic participants from athletes to media face a range of anti-virus measures including regular testing and limits on their movement.

But with Tokyo recording its highest case numbers since a winter wave in January, scrutiny of virus risks around the Games is intense.

International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach insisted Thursday that anti-virus rules “are working”.

Among thousands of arrivals to Japan since July 1, only a handful of positive cases have been reported.

Tokyo 2020 on Thursday said an athlete and five staff members, mostly contractors, had tested positive. Another four positive tests were reported among Olympic staff on Friday.

Other cases have been found among delegations arriving early for training camps, or in one case among staff at a hotel hosting Brazilian athletes.

But Bach said a visit to the Olympic Village had convinced him that anti-virus rules were “in place, and they are working, and they are enforced”.

“We could see and convince ourselves that all the delegations are following the rules and are supporting the rules, because they know it is in their own interest to be safe,” he said at a meeting with Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike.

The capital is currently under a virus state of emergency, although the measures are significantly less strict than a lockdown and mostly limit alcohol sales and restaurants’ opening hours.

The measures will continue throughout the Olympics, and could be expanded to other regions where cases are surging.

Japan has seen a smaller outbreak than many countries, with fewer than 15,000 deaths, despite avoiding harsh lockdowns.

But the country’s vaccination roll-out has been comparatively slow, with around 20 percent of the population so far fully vaccinated.

– ‘Olympic Games, Covid edition’ –

Dozens of teams are already in Japan — some at training camps dotted around the country, and others in the Olympic Village, where national flags have been hung on the buildings housing delegations.

British weightlifter Sarah Davies was among the athletes posting on social media about life at the pandemic Olympics.

“We have what we call the prison yard,” she said in a video posted on her Instagram account as she walked on a stretch of pavement.

“So we can literally walk up and down this stretch between the hours of 7 am and 10 am, and that is the only time we’re allowed outside,” she said.

“Genuinely, feels like we’re in prison. But, hey, it is what it is… Welcome to Olympic Games, Covid edition.”

Other teams in town, including American swimmers and star gymnast Simone Biles, also posted images from their training sites.

Bach will be in Hiroshima on Friday to mark the start of an “Olympic truce” endorsed by the United Nations. IOC vice-president John Coates will visit Nagasaki.

The truce aims to ensure a halt to all hostilities, allowing the safe passage and participation of athletes and spectators for the Games.

Bach has sparked controversy by reportedly asking Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to consider allowing spectators into Olympic venues if the virus situation improves.

Local media said the request was made during a meeting between the two men on Wednesday, with Suga saying any changes to spectator rules would be decided by local and national government officials with organisers and Olympic and Paralympic representatives.

Despite the state of emergency, up to 5,000 spectators are allowed at non-Olympic sporting events in Tokyo.

But organisers argue the Games is different because it involves multiple events happening simultaneously, posing a greater risk of crowds gathering and infection spreading.

Local media reported this week that fewer than 1,000 people — mostly dignitaries and officials — would be allowed to watch the opening ceremony on July 23.

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Written by Tempo Desk

Tempo 16 July 2021, Friday issue

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