Tokyo 2020 organisers announce tougher COVID-19 countermeasures

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Tokyo 2020 organisers announce tougher COVID-19 countermeasures

April 28, 2021

Organisers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics on Wednesday announced tougher coronavirus countermeasures such as daily testing of athletes to try to reassure an increasingly sceptical Japanese public already facing a resurgence of COVID-19.

With under three months to go before the postponed Games, Japan’s vaccination drive lags other wealthy nations, raising safety concerns among citizens and athletes, and complicating the future for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who has repeatedly vowed the Games will go ahead.

The organisers, including the Tokyo 2020 organising committee, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Japanese government and the International Paralympic Committee, said in a joint statement that they would “deploy all possible countermeasures and place the highest priority on safety”.

Overseas spectators have already been ruled out and a decision on whether to allow domestic spectators will be taken in June, a few weeks before the Games begin on July 23.

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said that while organisers wanted as many spectators as possible, they were ready to take every step needed to ensure safety.

“We are prepared to hold the Games without spectators,” she told a news conference following a meeting on the second draft of rule “playbooks” for the Olympics and Paralympics.

Athletes and close contacts will be tested every day, while all participants must have two negative tests before arrival. Participants will not be allowed to use public transport and must eat in specific locations with special hygiene measures.

Parts of Japan, including the capital Tokyo, were put under a new state of emergency at the weekend, and most of the Japanese public think the Games, postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic, should be cancelled or delayed again.

The state of emergency, which is due to last until May 11, requires restaurants and bars serving alcohol to close along with large stores, cinemas and other commercial facilities.

Companies must let staff work from home and spectators are barred from major sports events.

Thomas Bach, the head of the IOC, told the organisers that he fully understood the decision to declare the emergency.

Speaking by video-link, he said the rule playbooks would be strictly enforced and that the IOC was fully committed to the successful and safe delivery of the Games.

Tokyo 2020 Chief Executive Toshiro Muto echoed this, saying that in his view, it would be hard to delay the Games again.

An earlier version of the rules released in February banned singing and chanting during events and required athletes to wear masks at all times except when outdoors, sleeping or eating.

Even without foreign spectators, more than 10,000 athletes, coaches and support staff are expected to arrive in July.

Though Japan has not suffered as badly from COVID-19 as many countries, the infection rate has risen back to levels not seen since January, and more and more cases are from new variants.

On Wednesday, Tokyo reported 925 new cases.