TOKYO – Organizers of the Tokyo Olympics reported the first case of COVID-19 in the athletes’ village on Saturday, along with 14 other new cases related to the Games starting next week, raising further questions about the promises of a “safe and secure” event.
Organizers confirmed that a visitor from abroad working for the Olympics tested positive in a routine check on Friday. The person’s nationality was not disclosed due to privacy concerns.
The other cases included two members of the media, seven contractors, and five Games staff.
The case of the Athletes’ Village, a 44-hectare site built on Tokyo’s waterfront, is particularly worrying as most of the 11,000 competitors will stay there.
Originally intended to show Japan’s recovery from its 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster, the Tokyo Olympics have become a damage limitation exercise.
Postponed for a year due to the global pandemic, it takes place mostly without spectators and under strict quarantine rules. Most of the athletes are starting to arrive for the Games, which will take place from July 23 to August 8.
The Japanese public has been cautious about hosting the Games amid a resurgence of new coronavirus infections and concerns that an influx of visitors could create a wide-spread event, putting an already stretched medical system to the test.
Only about 20% of the population is fully vaccinated.
Although Japan has escaped explosive blasts from other nations, it has more than 820,000 cases and some 15,000 deaths. The number of new cases in the host city of Tokyo, which is in its fourth state of emergency from the virus, has exceeded 1,000 for four days in a row.
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto acknowledged the public’s concerns.
“I understand that there are still many worrying factors. The organizers should try to make sure that people understand that these games are safe and secure, ”he said at a news conference on Saturday.
So far, more than 40 people involved in the Games, including Japanese and foreigners, have tested positive.
Toshiro Muto, head of the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee, said on Saturday that officials were working on the assumption that there would be positive cases of COVID-19.
A key part of the measures against contagion are the daily saliva tests of the athletes who participate, as well as the frequent tests of the others involved in the event. Visitor movements must also be monitored and restricted.
But in a sign that organizers were already finding rules difficult to enforce, Ugandan weightlifter Julius Ssekitoleko disappeared from his team’s training site in Osaka on Friday.
Authorities are still looking for him, according to Games organizers. Media reports said that he left a note saying that he wanted to stay and work in Japan, as life in Uganda was difficult. (Reporting by Ritsuko Ando; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Kim Coghill)