How the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is being held during the pandemic: What we know

Will the games be a triumph against adversity or a superspreader event? Many questions remain, but we have a few answers.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic having forced the country to declare a third state of emergency, and rising public opposition, organizers of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games say the global sporting event is still on. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic having forced the country to declare a third state of emergency, and rising public opposition, organizers of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games say the global sporting event is still on. | RYUSEI TAKAHASHI

Staff writer

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the country to declare a third state of emergency and rising public opposition, organizers of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games say the global sporting event is still on, arguing that it will serve as a “symbol of resilience” during an otherwise bleak time.

The country’s vaccine rollout is starting to speed up, but critics fear the games will trigger a superspreader event in the capital — one that pushes the local health care system beyond its breaking point.

Organizers, however, insist the sporting event can be held safely with virus protocols in place.

What will the Tokyo Games look like? How many domestic fans will be allowed to attend in person? What virus protocols will athletes, staff, volunteers and media personnel be expected to follow during their stay in Japan?

The situation is changing daily and some questions don’t yet have answers, but here’s what we know so far:

What are the virus protocols for Olympic participants when they enter Japan?

All of the more than 15,000 athletes slated to compete in the games will need to be tested twice for COVID-19 before boarding a flight to Japan, and tested daily after their arrival, according to the latest playbook, which outlines coronavirus measures for athletes and other participants.

However, so that they can practice, they will not be asked to self-isolate for 14 days after landing in the country — a requirement for others who enter Japan from overseas.

Upon landing, athletes will be required to submit a comprehensive daily itinerary of what they plan to do, where they intend to go and how they will get there.

They will also be required to stay at the Olympic village for five days before they start competing and two days after.

Athletes will not be allowed to use public transportation unless their event is held at a distant venue, but they will be allowed to eat meals either at restaurants where they are staying, through room services and deliveries to their rooms or by using catering services at event venues.

Organizers said coaches and staff would be asked to follow most of the same protocols, though the details haven’t yet been announced.

What happens if somebody breaks protocol?

Organizers have said failure to comply — not just for athletes but for all personnel — could result in a disciplinary warning, temporary or permanent expulsion, monetary fines or the withdrawal of media accreditation for members of the press.

While domestic attendance has been a fundamental — and equally controversial — dilemma for organizers, so too is the effectiveness with which they can prevent or track contact infections among the tens of thousands of Olympic and Paralympic athletes, coaches, staff, volunteers, VIPs and media personnel.

GPS tracking and deterrents — by way of warnings, fines or (for athletes) expulsion from the games — seem to be their answer.

On June 15, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Tokyo Organizing Committee released the third draft of the playbook, a guidebook of the individual restrictions and coronavirus measures to which participants in the Tokyo Games will be subjected leading up to and during their stay in Japan.

Will vaccinations be mandatory for athletes?

No, but COVID-19 vaccines will be administered to athletes who wish to be inoculated beforehand.

In early May, Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), announced that the organization had signed a nonbinding agreement with Pfizer Inc. to provide vaccines for all athletes competing in the Tokyo 2020 Games.

While vaccines will not be mandatory, Bach said Wednesday that he expects more than 80% of the temporary residents at the athlete’s village — which is located on the Harumi waterfront district in Tokyo’s Chuo Ward — will be inoculated.

Will volunteers attend the games? If so, what are their protocols?

About 80,000 volunteers signed up last year to volunteer during the Tokyo Games. It’s unclear how many of them will be tested, but organizers said a number could be screened depending on the “nature of their role” and their “proximity to athletes.”

To date, about 10,000 volunteers have quit, most likely due to fears of COVID-19.

It’s estimated that about 1,000 pulled out in response to sexist gaffes by Yoshiro Mori, who eventually stepped down in February as president of the Tokyo Organizing Committee.

Will foreign media be allowed to cover the games?

Yes. The protocols are similar to what are required for athletes, coaches and staff. They need to be tested twice before boarding their flights and be tested every day for the first three days upon arrival, according to the playbook for press.

But on June 8, Tokyo organizing chief Seiko Hashimoto said overseas journalists will be monitored using GPS to ensure they don’t visit destinations that they have not registered in advance. Those who violate the protocols will lose their media accreditation, she said.

Will spectators be allowed during the games?

Currently, spectators from foreign countries have been barred from attending the games. The fate of Japan-based spectators is still an unknown.

On June 16 the central government announced that attendance at large events where the country’s coronavirus measures have been lifted will be capped at 10,000 people or 50% venue capacity — whichever figure is lower — through August.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has said he will decide how many domestic spectators are allowed to attend the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games based on event restrictions set forth by the country’s coronavirus countermeasures.

The announcement about large events — which was made less than five weeks before the opening ceremony on July 23 — essentially determines how many local fans will be able to attend the games in person.

Organizers said they will decide by the end of June exactly how many domestic fans will be allowed during the games, but the June 16 announcement provided the most definitive approximation so far of the size and nature of the global sporting event.

Prior to a number of reimbursements in December, the Tokyo Organizing Committee had sold 900,000 tickets overseas and more than 3.6 million in Japan.

“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,” Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto said in April.

Media reports in May said organizers were leaning toward allowing domestic spectators, though no numbers were specified.

What happens if or when athletes, coaches or staff are infected with COVID-19?

We don’t know.

It’s not clear what the protocols are for situations where athletes, coaches or staff experience a fever, how they will be tested for COVID-19 or where they will be hospitalized if they test positive.

The organizing committee plans to designate 30 hospitals — 10 of which are located in Tokyo — to provide treatment for athletes, including for sports injuries.

What is the COVID-19 situation in Japan?

Currently, a state of emergency is active in 10 of the country’s 47 prefectures until June 20, while pre-emergency measures are active in several cities across eight prefectures.

New variants of COVID-19, which are more transmissible and deadlier, are replacing the initial virus strain and causing more infections.

The vaccine rollout has been slow in Japan, with only medical workers and people age 65 and older having been inoculated so far. The government aims to finish vaccinating the nation’s 36 million older people by the end of July. Inoculation for the general population is slated to start in the summer.

What is the public sentiment on hosting the Olympics?

Most public surveys conducted in May show that a majority of the public believe the games can’t be held safely, should be postponed or need to be canceled altogether. But more recent ones conducted in June show more mixed opinions.

According to a two-day phone survey published on May 17 by TV Asahi, 82% believe the games should be delayed again or canceled. But respondents were split in a survey released on June 7 by Yomiuri Shimbun, in which half of respondents said the games should go on while 48% said they should be canceled.

More than 420,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the games to be canceled, pointing to the danger it will pose to the local population and the burden it will have on the nation’s hospitals, doctors and nurses.