A third visiting Olympian tested positive for the coronavirus upon arrival in Japan, the latest challenge for the strict health protocols meant to prevent the virus’s spread ahead of the Tokyo Games set to kick off later this month.
A male rower in his 30s tested positive for the virus after landing at Tokyo’s Haneda airport Saturday night, Takashi Ikeda, an official in Nanto, where Serbia’s athletes are scheduled to train, told Reuters.
The man was sent to a medical facility and the other four members of the rowing team to a separate site, so they will be unlikely to train in Nanto ahead of the Games, Ikeda told Reuters.
All Olympians visiting Japan are required to be tested for the virus before departure and after their arrival. Although being vaccinated is not a requirement, Olympic officials say they expect more than 80 percent of participants to be inoculated against the coronavirus. Once inside Japan, athletes are required to adhere to a litany of health protocols, such as limiting contact to those in their designated social bubble.
Despite the plans on paper, public health experts have warned that the virus is likely to find a way in, given the huge influx of people from all over the world at a time when highly contagious variants are spreading.
Complicating matters, Japan itself has been fighting a surge in cases coupled with low vaccination rates. On Saturday, Tokyo confirmed 716 new covid-19 cases, the highest increase in more than five weeks, according to Reuters.
In June, two members of Uganda’s Olympic team tested positive after arriving in Japan despite receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Uganda has been battling its worst outbreak, which scientists say is being fueled by highly infectious variants combined with low vaccination rates and limited hospital resources and health-care access.
Late last month, Japan’s Emperor Nahurito issued a rare statement challenging the insistence of the Japanese government and the International Olympic Committee that the Games, already postponed once because of the pandemic, can be safely held this year.
“His majesty is very worried about the current infection situation of the covid-19 disease,” said Yasuhiko Nishimura, grand steward of the agency, the Kyodo News agency reported.
“I suppose that he is concerned that while there are voices of anxiety among the public, the event may lead to the expansion of infections,” Nishimura said.
Olympic organizers have emphasized that despite the challenges, the Games, scheduled to begin July 23 will go on. Foreign spectators were banned and a scaled-down number of domestic spectators will be allowed. Only 10,000 fans, or about 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, whichever figure is smaller, will be permitted, though these calculations exclude VIPs and officials, among others.
Japanese officials say more restrictions on the Games could be applied if the number of cases continues to rise.