Athletes taking part in this summer’s Olympic Games will be tested daily for Covid-19, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Tokyo Games organisers have put off until June a decision on whether domestic spectators will be allowed to attend.
According to an updated version of guidelines, known as “playbooks”, that organisers claim will ensure a “safe and secure” Games, all participants will be required to record two negative tests before they leave for Japan. Athletes and those with whom they come into close contact will also be tested daily during their stay in the host country.
Athletes will not be permitted to take public transport or visit restaurants but should eat at catering facilities at Games venues and their accommodations, or in their rooms using room service or outside delivery, according to the playbook released on Wednesday after a meeting between the IOC, the International Paralympic Committee, local organisers and the Tokyo and national governments.
They must spend their time in Tokyo using official vehicles to move between their hotels and event venues. Other participants will be tested for the first three days after their arrival in Japan and “regularly” thereafter, with the frequency determined by their proximity to athletes.
“We are confident that compliance with these regulations will ensure the safety and security of athletes, Games officials and spectators, as well as the people of Tokyo, other host locations and Japan,” the organisations said in a joint statement.
The new measures were announced days after Tokyo and three other prefectures entered a third state of emergency in an attempt to check a surge in cases.
Japan has reported about 570,000 infections since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and more than 10,000 deaths. Tokyo, the centre of the country’s outbreak, recorded 925 cases on Wednesday, the highest number since 28 January.
Political leaders in the four affected areas – Tokyo, Osaka, Hyogo and Kyoto – implored residents to stay home during the upcoming Golden Week public holidays.
“We are at a crucial turning point,” the governor of Tokyo, Yuriko Koike, said. “To slow infections and keep them from becoming explosive, we must reduce people’s movements.”
Koike urged Tokyoites not to have barbecues or drink outdoors, even though bars and restaurants serving alcohol are closed under emergency measures expected to last until at least 11 May.
Her warning came after medical experts said a rapid spread of the more contagious UK variant of the virus could send daily cases in the capital as high as 2,000 within a fortnight.
The IOC president, Thomas Bach, said the organisation was “fully committed to the successful and safe delivery of the Olympic and Paralympic Games”, adding that organisers would “strictly enforce” the Covid-19 rules.
Bach said he believed the “resilience” of the Japanese people would make the Olympics possible under difficult circumstances. Opinion polls, however, show that a majority of the Japanese public believe the Games should either be cancelled or postponed a second time.
Organisers have decided to ban overseas sports fans and had been hoping that significant numbers of Japanese spectators would be able to create an atmosphere at venues. But the recent surge in cases, and concern over the spread of new variants, forced them to delay a decision on attendance.
“As we look into the evolving situation with the domestic infections status involving new strains, we have agreed that a decision regarding spectator capacity at the Olympic and Paralympic venues will be made in June, in line with the government’s general guidance concerning the upper limit of spectator capacity in sports events,” the joint statement said.
Seiko Hashimoto, president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee, conceded that it would be “extremely difficult” to stage events in front of full venues if the current situation continued, adding that she was prepared for the possibility that they would have to be held behind closed doors.
While Australia and other countries plan to fast-track their athletes for vaccinations, it is possible that much of the Japanese public will still be unprotected by the time the opening ceremony takes place on 23 July.
Since its vaccine rollout began in mid-February – months after the UK, US and other countries – Japan has inoculated just over 1% of its population, with red tape and staffing problems expected to cause further disruptions to its immunisation programme.
The Kyodo news agency, citing a cabinet office official, said the government would secure about 30 hospitals to accept Olympics athletes and officials, while organisers have asked 500 nurses to volunteer for the Games, despite the strain that could place on the vaccination programme and already overstretched medical services.