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Japan to test all Olympic athletes for COVID-19 on daily basis

TOKYO – The Japanese government endorsed a policy Wednesday to test all athletes participating at the Tokyo Olympics for the novel coronavirus on a daily basis in principle.

 

As part of efforts to improve the safety of the Summer Games amid the coronavirus pandemic, Japanese officials agreed on the policy a couple of hours before a high-level online meeting with the International Olympic Committee and other organizers.

 

Other anti-virus steps for the Olympics, set to open in less than three months, that were approved during a meeting at the prime minister’s office include requiring athletes and staff from overseas to be tested for the virus twice within 96 hours of departure from their respective countries.

 

IOC President Thomas Bach and representatives of the other organizers took part in the five-party virtual meeting to discuss their coronavirus countermeasures.

 

One of the major issues expected to be discussed is whether to limit the number of domestic spectators, after it was decided in March to stage the Olympics and Paralympics without spectators from overseas.

 

“The IOC is fully committed to the successful and safe delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020,” Bach said in his opening remarks, adding the organizers will “strictly enforce” COVID-19 rules.

 

On Wednesday, the organizers are due to release an updated version of their “playbooks” for athletes, featuring rules they must follow during the games.

 

While Japan’s roughly 577,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections are fewer than many other countries, media polls have repeatedly shown that a majority of the Japanese people are not in favor of hosting the games this summer following a one-year postponement.

 

The organizers have emphasized the importance of testing athletes and visiting officials frequently to detect infections at an early stage and prevent the games from becoming a super-spreader event.

 

However, some medical experts have voiced concerns over staging the games at this juncture when highly contagious variants of the virus are spreading in many countries, and when the strain on Japan’s medical system has been increasing.

 

On Wednesday, a senior Cabinet official said the Japanese government will secure about 30 hospitals capable of accepting athletes and officials during the Olympics.

 

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has vowed to take steps to ensure the Tokyo Games are “safe and secure,” but he has been unsuccessful in bringing down infections.

 

Tokyo and several prefectures are under a third state of emergency until May 11 due to a recent spike in infections. The capital on Wednesday confirmed 925 cases of the virus, the highest figure since Jan. 28.

 

Under the emergency that took effect Sunday, large commercial facilities, theme parks, karaoke establishments and restaurants serving alcohol have been asked to close.

 

Meanwhile, Japan’s vaccine rollout, which has been criticized as too slow, only began for those 65 and over earlier this month, and it is impossible for much of the general public to be inoculated by the start of the Olympics on July 23.

 

The IOC and the Tokyo organizing committee have not made vaccination a requirement for athletes and officials. But the IOC has recommended they receive shots to protect the health of the participants and the Japanese public.

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