The athletes village for the Tokyo Olympics officially opened Tuesday, 10 days before the start of the world's largest sporting event, but the occasion passed with little fanfare as a renewed coronavirus surge puts a damper on the host city.
Unlike in the past, organizers opted not to hold a ceremony or a special event to welcome athletes and delegation officials to the 44-hectare village in Tokyo's Harumi waterfront district. Media were also not provided an opportunity to cover the opening, with organizers citing the need to take precautions against the spread of the virus.
A large number of police cars were parked outside the village as buses entered the fenced-off complex. National flags could be seen hanging from the balconies of some of the 21 residential buildings the complex houses.
Olympic athletes need to limit their stays in the village to a minimum by checking in five days before they compete, in principle. They are then required to leave the site within two days after their events finish.
Daily coronavirus testing and the wearing of masks are among the strict precautions that must be followed by the some 18,000 athletes and officials when they stay at the village.
The village, which also houses dining halls, a fitness center and a doping control center, will serve as the base for athletes until three days after the closing ceremony on Aug. 8. In light of the challenges of operating in a COVID-19 environment, it also has a fever clinic.
But fears remain among many people in Japan that the pandemic-postponed Olympics starting July 23 could be a superspreader event, even though Japanese organizers and the International Olympic Committee recently decided to hold nearly all of the competitions without spectators.
The opening of the village came a day after a fresh state of emergency took effect in Tokyo.
A response to another wave of infections driven by the virus's more contagious delta variant, the emergency is aimed at curbing the movement of people and entails restrictions such as barring restaurants from serving alcohol. It is scheduled to run through Aug. 22.
Olympic delegations started to arrive in Japan at the beginning of July for camps ahead of the games, with over 2,200 expected to enter the country in the week through July 18.
Already, two members of the Ugandan team, a Serbian athlete and a member of the Israeli delegation have tested positive for COVID-19, stirring concerns about whether Japan's border controls can keep the virus at bay.
The village clinic operates 24 hours a day to enable polymerase chain reaction tests to be conducted on suspected patients and to isolate those confirmed as having been infected with the virus. Depending on the degree of symptoms, those infected will be hospitalized or sent to quarantine at a designated hotel outside the village.
Village residents are permitted to only travel to places they have outlined in activity plans in advance and are prohibited from walking freely outside the site or to visit tourist spots, as well as restaurants and bars.
They are advised to keep physical distancing, including when eating at the main dining hall, which will provide up to 45,000 meals a day ranging from Japanese, Western and Asian to halal, vegetarian and gluten-free cuisine, and at the casual dining hall focusing on popular and traditional Japanese dishes.
Over 80% of residents are expected to be vaccinated, according to the International Olympic Committee. The village will formally welcome participants of the Paralympics between Aug. 17 and Sept. 8.
The main media center also officially opened Tuesday at the Tokyo Big Sight international convention center, which is located close to many competition venues in the capital's bay area.
The organizers said they expect up to 2,500 members of the media to use the 24-hour facility each day. The facility, which has some 750 shared seats for the press, also houses the international broadcast center.
Due to the coronavirus, the number of press members traveling to Japan for the Olympics and Paralympics has also been cut to 4,600 from the initially expected 8,400.
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