The more than 15,000 athletes slated to compete in the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games this July will each need to be tested twice for the coronavirus before boarding a flight to Japan and be tested daily after their arrival. But they will not be asked to isolate themselves after landing in the country and nor will vaccinations be mandatory.
These are a few of the tentative guidelines that organizers released Wednesday evening in the second version of their “playbook,” a 60-page booklet for athletes that provides an outline of the coronavirus measures they will be subjected to during their stay in Japan.
Less than three months remain until the opening ceremony and the finer details of how organizers intend to host the global sporting event during an ongoing pandemic are slowly but surely beginning to take shape. What’s also becoming clear is the added burden it will have on Japan’s health care system and the risk it poses to the domestic population.
Whether the country can, should or will host the Tokyo Games amid growing public opposition is a question that looms larger every day.
According to the second version of the playbook, athletes will be required to avoid eating where safety measures appear lax, will not be allowed to use public transportation and will be required to submit upon landing a comprehensive daily itinerary of what they plan to do, where they will go and how they’ll get there.
They will not, however, be asked to isolate for 14 days after landing in the country.
On Friday, organizers will publish a playbook for members of the media, political delegates and other personnel. A “roundtable discussion” of experts will be held the same day to discuss COVID-19 countermeasures.
While spectators from foreign countries have been barred from attending the games, how many domestic fans will be allowed has not been decided. Organizers said that decision will be made in June — the same month a third version of the athlete playbook will be published — potentially weeks before the opening ceremony on July 23.
“There is a chance that no spectators will be allowed to attend the games, but we hope the situation allows many people to enjoy events in person,” said Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto.
It’s unclear how many of the 80,000 volunteers recruited for the games last year — many have dropped out since then due in part to high-profile political gaffes and sexism scandals — will be tested, but organizers said a number could be screened depending on the “nature of their role” and their “proximity to athletes.”
Meanwhile, a fourth wave of the outbreak is gaining momentum in Japan as the pandemic intensifies in several parts of the world.
From the country’s slow vaccination rollout to questions surrounding the ability of organizers to prevent a super-spreader event, it is nothing short of a global conundrum whether Japan can execute the Tokyo Games without triggering a massive outbreak.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared states of emergency earlier this month in four prefectures — Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo — where an abrupt resurgence of COVID-19 is pushing local hospitals, test centers and medical facilities to their limits or beyond.
As the virus continues to spread, fear is mounting that, even if the games don’t trigger a massive outbreak, they will place a heavy burden on an already overstretched health care system.
Earlier this week, local media reported that the Tokyo Organising Committee had submitted a request to the Japan Nursing Association for 500 nurses to be deployed to provide medical assistance during the games.
The organizing committee is looking to secure 10,000 medical staff based on the premise that upwards of 300 doctors, 400 nurses and other medical staff will be necessary every day, and each will be expected to work unpaid for a stretch of five days.
But those figures will likely change in June, when organizers render their verdict on how many domestic spectators will be allowed.
On Tuesday, TBS reported that the organizing committee is moving forward with plans to designate 30 hospitals — 10 of which are located inside Tokyo — to be prepared around the clock to admit athletes who contract the virus.
In the most recent polls, 70% of the Japanese public either doesn’t think the Tokyo Games can be held safely, or believe they should be canceled.
Organizers have acknowledged the risks.
“It may be impossible to completely eliminate the risk that someone becomes infected,” Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said Monday.
Public disapproval of the once-postponed event has always ebbed and flowed with the rise and fall of new waves of the coronavirus. But that negative sentiment seems to have hardened at a high level, possibly due to a recent scandal involving sexist remarks made by then-Tokyo 2020 President Yoshiro Mori that led to his resignation, or because in recent weeks it has become clear that the general population will not be inoculated by the time the games kick off in July.
Regarding the sporting event, Shigeru Omi, chair of the central government’s coronavirus subcommittee, said “the time has come for organizers to have a serious debate over the state of the virus, and the strain it’s putting on the health care system.”
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