Olympic organizers plan to require athletes competing at the postponed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer to take COVID-19 tests every four to five days, even if they do not show symptoms, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of infections, a government-led panel said Wednesday.
The policy, which will requires all people staying at the athletes village to get tested every 96 to 120 hours in principle, was included in an interim report released by the panel following the six meetings it has held since September.
The panel is comprised of representatives from the central government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Organising Committee, and is tasked with creating safety measures for the Summer Games.
Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo Organising Committee, said the report was crafted on the premise that the games may be held even without effective vaccines.
The government is considering allowing spectators from overseas to attend the games, exempting them from its 14-day quarantine requirement if they are from countries with relatively few virus cases, according to the panel.
Spectators from abroad will likely be asked to download a contact-tracing smartphone app and report on their health, but they will be permitted to use public transportation.
The government will make the decision on whether to admit overseas fans, after taking into consideration the pandemic situation, by spring of next year, according to officials.
The virus countermeasures at the athletes village, which is expected to accommodate up to around 10,000 people during the games, has been a major concern for organizers.
Located in the Harumi waterfront district in Tokyo, the village will be equipped with facilities to test athletes and analyze the results. To prevent an outbreak from occurring at the village, athletes will be asked to check out promptly after they finish competing in the games, according to the report.
“(The measures) will allow athletes to feel secure and so focus on their events,” said Tsuyoshi Fukui, secretary general of the Japanese Olympic Committee.
But he noted there were still issues that must be discussed, including how to carry out the tests and anti-virus measures at the opening and closing ceremonies.
The report was released amid hopes that COVID-19 vaccines will start to become available ahead of the games. However, Japan and other parts of the world have experienced a resurgence of the virus in recent weeks.
The government has been trying to gain public support and build momentum as many people in the country question hosting the Olympics and Paralympics due to concerns over safety and the ballooning costs.
The Olympics and Paralympics were postponed in March due to the global health crisis. Since then, the organizing committee has sought to simplify the games and cut spending where possible.
While the games were initially estimated to cost around ¥1.35 trillion ($12.8 billion), organizers now expect the postponement to drive up the total price tag by some ¥200 billion, according to sources familiar with the matter.
An extra ¥100 billion is expected to be spent on COVID-19 countermeasures, the sources said.
Based on the interim report, the central and metropolitan governments and the organizing committee will begin discussions to determine how much of the additional burden each will shoulder.
With less than eight months until the opening of the Olympics, the capital is seeing a surge in virus infections. On Friday, it reported 570 new cases, marking the highest level on record.
During his visit to Tokyo last month, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said his organization would shoulder the cost of vaccines for visiting athletes and officials if they were developed in time for the Olympics.
The U.K. said Wednesday it had given emergency approval to a COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE, and that it will be made available from next week.
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