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Separation of foreign athletes from general population difficult

  • July 15, 2021
  • , Sankei , p. 5
  • JMH Translation

Only eight days left to the Games


Arrival of Olympic athletes is at its peak at Japan’s international airports, and several hundred are entering the country every day. During the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, the athletes are to remain in a “bubble” apart from local Japanese to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. Implementation of the plan is far from perfect, however.


Contact with general public


By Kamisawa Hiroyuki, Ogawa Takashi, and Machida Masatoshi, staff writers


In the afternoon of July 13, athletes were met by ushers, called liaisons, waiting for them in protective garments at the Narita International Airport’s Terminal No. 1 North Wing. They were holding a sign that read: “Tokyo 2020 Athletes.”


Large groups of athletes disembark from the plane at a different time from other travelers to avoid contact. Smaller groups, however, often come out with other passengers. “Call aggressively to arriving passengers to locate athletes and other Olympic members among them,” a veteran liaison instructs less-experienced colleagues. “They are all mixed in with regular passengers.”


The liaisons are travel agents and others contracted by the Tokyo Olympics Organizing Committee. They are tasked with confirming nationalities of the teams and the number of team members at the airport, as well as ensuring the team members have purchased an OCHA application designed specifically for people arriving for the Games. The liaisons also lead the arriving teams through the airport quarantine station, taking paths different from regular travelers.


In some cases, liaisons and officials from the Cabinet Secretariat must scramble to reconfirm the number of travelers in the team. There have been cancellations of travel plans. Some members have mistakenly proceeded to the quarantine by themselves. Sometimes, some were missing because they went to wash up in a restroom.


“It is impossible to completely separate Olympic teams from regular passengers,” a government official admits. An airport worker said: “There have been so many cases of sudden cancellation of arrivals as well as unannounced arrivals. One time, several dozen members who we hadn’t heard about suddenly showed up. I have no idea who knows all the arrival schedules. Is it the organizing committee or host towns?”


On July 14, the Brazilian team that exited the staff entrance at the Haneda Airport Terminal No. 3 was met by about 50 volunteers waving their hands in welcome. As the team walked through the designated pathway, other passengers took photos and fist bumped with the team members.


“I was surprised to actually see them, because I had thought they would be going through the airport discreetly in a bubble,” said an office worker who came to the airport in the hope of somehow seeing Olympic athletes. 


Hotel: “We don’t know how far along they are in quarantine”


By Iki Midori, staff writer


Once a team exits the airport, it heads for the hotel. 


“Hotels don’t know how long each [Olympic-related] guest has been in Japan,” says the general manager of a hotel in Tokyo where the Olympic officials and athletes are staying. “It is not our job to keep track [of their adherence to the quarantine requirement].” The hotel is currently accommodating a total of 93 members of foreign media outlets and corporate sponsors. The hotel is expected to have up to 200 Olympic-related guests, which is half of the hotel’s capacity.


The Olympics playbook states that visitors cannot use public transportation or go anywhere other than pre-registered locations. However, nobody in the hotel can tell the individuals that arrived in Japan within the past 14 days.


At the entrance to the hotel, security personnel contracted by the organizing committee watch movements of the Olympic-related visitors. “It is unrealistic to expect them to follow the activities of every single one of them,” says the hotel manager.


The manager is dissatisfied with the organizing committee’s handling of the situation. It was already late June when the committee requested the hotel to “set up separate entrances, elevators, and dining places for foreign visitors and domestic guests.” The hotel scrambled to meet the requirements but was able only to implement two measures: to introduce a simplified check-in system to reduce physical contact between guests and to designate separate times for breakfast. “We’d like to cooperate as much as possible, but we cannot fulfill every requirement,” the manager said. (Abridged)


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