• Reuters, Kyodo, Jiji

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With two members of the Ugandan delegation having tested positive after arriving in Japan for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which start on July 23, organizers are seeking to soothe public concerns that delegations may bring in and spread COVID-19.

At a news conference Monday, Yasuhiro Yamashita, the president of Japan’s Olympic Committee, said it is impossible to completely shut out coronavirus cases upon arrival, making it crucial for authorities to spot them at the border.

“There is just no way there won’t be cases arriving in Japan, no matter what we do … that’s why it is crucial we make sure to catch cases at airports and enforce strict border controls,” Yamashita said.

He added that the Tokyo Organising Committee and the government will play a greater role in the quarantine process when new cases are identified among arriving delegations, rather than leaving them to local authorities to handle.

Also Monday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga visited Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to inspect border control measures ahead of the games.

“We must continue implementing anti-virus measures while remaining highly vigilant,” Suga told reporters. “If necessary, we will quickly take additional steps.”

Such steps could include declaring another state of emergency or extending the restrictions on business activities that are currently in place under a quasi-emergency — moves that would likely see fewer, if any, spectators at Olympic and Paralympic venues.

Japan’s border measures have been under scrutiny since a member of the Ugandan Olympic delegation tested positive for the coronavirus upon arriving at Narita Airport near Tokyo on June 19. The rest of the team was allowed to travel by chartered bus to Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, where another member was later found to be infected.

Suga said Japan will adopt “strict rules,” such as identifying those who may have had close contact with infected people during flights.

Noting that Tokyo Games athletes will be tested for the coronavirus twice before they enter Japan and every day after their arrival, Suga said, “We will restrict places they will be allowed to go and put them under tough rules so that they will not come into contact with residents of Japan.”

Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Monday. | AFP-JIJI
Yasuhiro Yamashita, president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Monday. | AFP-JIJI

Officials of the Tokyo Organising Committee have also expressed the need for stricter COVID-19 guidelines in the wake of the Ugandan incidents.

Athletes and other delegation members should be immediately isolated if they arrive in Japan with a person infected with the coronavirus, officials said.

Hidemasa Nakamura, chief of the main operation center of the games, told a television program Sunday that it is highly probable that people will come into close contact with an infected person if they travel on the same plane.

“We’ll immediately prepare a system to isolate and test them even before making a determination (whether they had close contact with an infected person),” he said.

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