Japan to test all Olympic athletes for COVID

Tokyo, Japan | Wed, April 28, 2021

On Wednesday, the Japanese government agreed in principle to screen all competitors competing in the Tokyo Olympics for the novel coronavirus on a regular basis. Japanese officials decided on the policy just hours before a high-level online meeting with the International Olympic Committee and other organizers to strengthen the protection of the Summer Games in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Other anti-virus measures approved at a meeting in the prime minister’s office for the Olympics, which begin in less than three months, include requiring athletes and workers from other countries to be screened for the virus twice within 96 hours of leaving their respective countries.

A major topic to be debated during the five-party virtual conference, which will include IOC President Thomas Bach and representatives from the other organizers, is whether to restrict the number of domestic spectators after the decision in March to stage the Olympics and Paralympics without those from other countries. The organizers will also issue a revised version of their “playbooks” for athletes on Wednesday, which will include the guidelines that they must obey during the games. Despite the fact that Japan has fewer confirmed COVID-19 infections than many other nations, media surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Japanese citizens oppose hosting the games this summer after a one-year hiatus.

The organizers have stressed the importance of testing athletes and visiting officials on a regular basis in order to identify pathogens early and avoid the games being a super-spreader event. However, some medical experts have expressed reservations about holding the games at this time, when highly infectious virus variants are spreading across many countries and the burden on Japan’s medical system is growing. A senior Cabinet official said on Wednesday that the Japanese government has secured about 30 hospitals that will be able to accommodate athletes and officials during the Olympics.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has promised to take action to make the Tokyo Olympics “clean and stable,” but he has so far been unsuccessful in reducing infection levels. Due to a recent increase in infections, Tokyo and several prefectures were declared in a third state of emergency until May 11. On Wednesday, the capital confirmed 925 cases of the virus, the highest number since January 28. Large commercial facilities, theme parks, karaoke establishments, and restaurants serving alcohol have been asked to close as part of the emergency that went into effect on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Japan’s vaccine rollout, which has been criticized as being too sluggish, started earlier this month for those 65 and older, and it is unlikely that most of the general population will be inoculated by the start of the Olympics on July 23. Athletes and officials are not required to be vaccinated by the IOC or the Tokyo organizing committee. However, the IOC has recommended that they be given shots in order to protect the participants’ and the Japanese public’s health.

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