Tokyo Olympics: World’s Biggest Show Set To Begin As Delta Variation Threat Looms
The vast majority of Australian Olympians have landed in Japan, greeted by a city that is desperately fighting to keep its growing coronavirus epidemic under control.
- The opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics takes place on July 23
- But the host city records its highest number of daily infections since January
- Australian athlete Liz Cambage withdrew from Games over concerns over ‘bubbles’ to prevent spread
A charter flight from Qantas arrived at Narita Airport last night just after 8:00 p.m. local time. Passengers then waited about four and a half hours for saliva tests to confirm that no one was carrying the virus.
“We expected a six hour wait here,” said Australian Olympic Committee deputy chef de mission Susie O’Neill shortly before hopping on the bus to the village.
“We are really happy with all the protocols that are in place. We just had a test and then, like all the other athletes who come to the village, a test every day.
“They took this [person] who tested positive, so we see that as a good thing. This shows that the protocols are working “
However, five days before the opening ceremony, Tokyo itself appears to be in trouble.
For a month in a row, the city’s curve has been increasing and with 1,300 cases recorded on July 15, it is now at levels not seen in the capital for six months.
Health experts warn that if the number of daily cases continues at the current rate, it will surpass 2,400 by the closing ceremony in four weeks.
Only 20% of the Japanese population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The country is about to enter its fifth wave, Kazuhiro Tateda, a member of the government’s coronavirus panel, said.
“The uncertain element is the spread of the Delta variant and the movements of people during the Olympic Games and [northern hemisphere] summer vacation, âhe said.
“If there is a sudden increase in the number of infections, it could have an unexpected impact on the medical system – we have to keep it under control, so we are asking people now [to] self control.”
Olympic organizers and Japanese authorities were confident they would be able to safely host one of the biggest events on the sporting calendar during a pandemic.
But as infections propelled by the Delta strain continue to skyrocket, combined with a less than stellar result in the recent local elections, the government has banned all spectators just over two weeks from the Games.
Even in a state of emergency, life goes on in Tokyo.
Schools are still open and restaurants and bars can function as long as they refrain from serving alcohol and close at 8:00 p.m.
Even a mass gathering of baseball fans is not excluded.
How Tokyo hosts virus-free ball games
Thousands of fans flocked to the Tokyo Dome this week to watch the interurban baseball derby between the Giants and the Swallows.
People were really excited to be there and although they weren’t allowed to clap or sing, there was still a lot of noise generated by fervent applause.
This is the reality of Tokyo in a state of emergency, where restrictions on staying at home are demands and professional sport continues to play out – with caps of 5,000 spectators.
Having fans in the stadiums adds so much, according to Giants club manager Harumi Hoshi.
“I hear this directly from the players and I think it is our responsibility to let them play in an environment in which they can perform at their best.
“For this reason, we will make efforts to allow a certain number of spectators.”
A few weeks ago, Olympic organizers cited Japanese baseball as a proven example that the Games could be hosted with spectators.
The Yomiuri Giants, along with other Japanese sports, have spent the past 18 months studying and sharing their information on how to run events that fans attend with Olympic organizers.
They measured CO2 levels to figure out where people congregate, used supercomputers to study particle propagation to the cheers, and then explained all of this to fans so they would know what to do and why they were doing it.
When you get to your seat, you can use your cell phone to scan a QR code, which indicates activity in areas such as food stalls or restrooms.
“We used measures that would make people feel like they wanted to cooperate so that all spectators could watch the game in safety,” Hoshi said.
The risk has become too great for the organizers of the Olympics
Baseball fans, many of whom had tickets to the Olympics, said it would be a sad event without spectators.
âIt lacks excitement. I think it’s okay to allow about half of the spectators while taking countermeasures,â said one fan.
âThe Games we planned to watch were all away, so I thought we could go. But the decision has been made. There is nothing we can do,â said another.
The Giants said only one person tested positive after watching a game, but there had been no cases of the infection spreading at the site.
The highly contagious Delta variant appears to have been a major factor in the government’s decision to ban spectators from the Games.
Organizers now say the sheer scale of the Olympics – which could have amassed as many as 430,000 fans traveling for events around Tokyo – makes them too dangerous.
By comparison, Japan’s professional baseball league is said to have around 47,000 fans in the same area every day.
Are the wheels already coming out of the Games?
The president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, said there was no risk of participants in the Games infecting Japanese residents.
Organizers imposed Olympic “bubbles” to prevent further transmission of COVID-19, but Australian athlete, basketball player Liz Cambage, withdrew because she did not believe she could cope with the arrangement.
Medical experts are also concerned that the bubbles are not tight enough to prevent the viral spread.
âIt encompasses risk and it’s a good idea. But it’s hard to have a perfect bubble,â Prof Tateda said.
“They need to find out the risk immediately and take action.”
A number of infections have emerged among several visiting athletes and those involved in the Games.
Australia’s top-ranked male tennis player tested positive on July 16 before leaving for Tokyo and was out of the squad.
Alex de Minaur said he was “broken” by the news.
On the same day, an Olympic athlete undergoing a 14-day quarantine period tested positive in Tokyo. The organizing committee did not reveal any details about the athlete.
And eight members of the Kenyan women’s rugby team, who were scheduled to host a training camp in Kurume, were classified as close contacts of a passenger on their flight to Tokyo who tested positive for COVID-19, a said a city official.
The eight athletes all tested negative upon arrival at the airport, the official added, and will remain in an accommodation center in Tokyo until the Games.
Isolating positive cases or close contacts is frustrating for athletes as they want to train for the biggest event of their career.
Seven workers at a hotel hosting the Brazilian judo team in the town of Hamamatsu have tested positive for the virus, putting the athletes in isolation.
âToday we live in a hotel where there is no one else but us,â said Ney Wilson, the frustrated team leader.
âWe can’t even touch the buttons on the elevators, there’s a person there to do it for us.
“These are the Patience Games.”
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