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Recent revelations about a highly contagious COVID-19 mutation, which slipped into Japan due to loose quarantine measures for people involved with the Tokyo Olympics, have prompted the organizers to introduce extra measures aimed at preventing any further spread linked to Olympic delegations.

Under pressure from opposition parties, the government has revealed that so far six people related to the games have entered Japan while infected with the delta mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Two cases were confirmed among Uganda’s Olympic team. Four other cases, in which delta variant infections were identified after entry to Japan, involved delegations from France in February, Egypt in April, Sri Lanka in May and Ghana in June.

A Ugandan coach tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival, and was isolated from the rest of the nine-member group, but another team member was only found to have been infected later.

Masahisa Sato, an Upper House lawmaker who heads the Liberal Democratic Party’s Foreign Affairs Division, revealed that the Ugandan team had traveled aboard the same plane as about 80 people from Qatar, of whom one was later confirmed to have been infected with the variant.

During a meeting Wednesday with other ruling-party members, Sato expressed concerns about the delay in isolating people who had been in contact with those infected.

“I, and some other lawmakers, believe that we need to manage every arriving flight,” he said, suggesting cooperation between the transport ministry and airline companies to confirm details of seating arrangements — needed to track down those seated nearby if passengers are later found to have been infected.

Members of the Danish Olympic rowing team arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on June 20 ahead of the Olympics. | KYODO
Members of the Danish Olympic rowing team arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo on June 20 ahead of the Olympics. | KYODO

On Wednesday, the government said that athletes and others coming to participate in the games from countries considered most affected by the outbreak of the delta variant would be subjected to stricter surveillance before arrival and in the days immediately after. Municipalities have also been asked to strengthen measures against COVID-19, in guidelines on welcoming athletes from abroad for training.

In one such example, the government is asking host towns to isolate people who were in contact with individuals testing positive for COVID-19 immediately after arrival, and for those individuals to be transported to training bases separately.

In the event that the training base is five or more hours away by bus, the authorities will require those who were in contact with infected individuals to stay at hotels near the airport. Additionally, those who test positive for COVID-19 at their training bases will be required to self-isolate individually and will not be allowed to continue training until they are no longer considered to be infected.

The revised measures will include a new system of tracing those connected with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics through a separately released smartphone app, which will require the individuals to monitor their movements after arriving in Japan.

The moves come amid concerns that the games, set to start July 23, could become a superspreader event. Those concerns arose due to the spread of the delta variant, which was first identified in India and is also known as B.1.617.2. It has already been confirmed in 85 countries, and is thought to be more transmissible than more common strains.

To curb its potential spread, Japan introduced strict quarantine measures earlier this year for countries where the variant’s exponential growth is feared. But athletes and others arriving for the Olympics have been covered by different regulations, which exempted them from self-isolation.

At a news conference Monday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said that athletes and staff from certain countries would be required to be tested every day for a week before coming to Japan, during which time they must self-isolate. Additionally, they will be forbidden from coming into contact with other people for three days after arriving.

The athletes and staff will also be subject to more rigorous testing after arriving in Japan. Athletes will be tested daily for 14 days, or until their first event, while staff linked to the games will be tested on a daily basis in their first week of arrival.

The measures will apply only to Afghanistan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Japan’s suggestion to impose extra measures on delegations from selected areas has drawn protest from the Indian Olympic Committee, who says the approach is unfair, discriminatory and will have a negative impact on the athletes.

Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to the report.

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