It looks like the Olympics are really going to take place, starting July 23 in Tokyo. But hosting the Games presents big challenges as pandemic continues in host city currently in a state of emergency and a country where a recent poll find 80% of residents don’t want the Olympics to take place this summer.
Other major events have been marred in recent weeks by positive cases of coronavirus, including the Eurovision singing competition and the PGA Tour. Multiple epidemics in the NFL last season caused major headaches.
The pandemic has already delayed the start of the 2020 games by a year (although they will still be called Tokyo 2020). With the competition just weeks away, organizers face two tests: preventing the spread of COVID-19 from foreign visitors to residents of Japan, and keeping athletes healthy and virus-free so they can compete.
But the scale of the challenge is immense. Some 11,500 athletes are expected to travel to Japan to compete in the Games, in addition to a valued 79,000 journalists, officials and staff who will also be present.
Here are some of the measures taken by the organizers to prevent the Games from turning into a disaster. Athletes who break the rules – such as refusing to be tested for the virus – may be banned from competing and have their credentials stripped.
We focus here on the rules for athletes, but others traveling abroad for the Games as journalists, officials or others face similar constraints.
Vaccines will be available – but they are not required
The International Olympic Committee ad Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech would give doses of the coronavirus vaccine to athletes and national delegations before their trip to Japan, to create a safer environment at the Games and to protect residents of Japan from the virus.
The organizers take the risks into account and seek the “best possible medical advice from public authorities”, Dick Pound, IOC member. Told NPR Morning edition Last week.
“No one wants to set up games where you have an increased risk of transmission” of COVID-19, he said.
The rules for athletes at the Games are dictated in a guide called The playbook.
The rules for other groups, such as journalists, staff and foreign delegations are willing in their own manuals. The most recent versions of the guides were published in April; the following and final versions are expected later this month.
Getting vaccinated before traveling to Japan is encouraged, but not required. The rules will also apply to vaccinated and unvaccinated athletes.
Earlier, the IOC announced that it would purchase vaccines in China for participants, but the IOC clarified that countries that had not authorized Chinese vaccines would not administer them, including Japan.
Athletes will be tested early – and they will be tested often
Competitors from outside Japan must be tested for the coronavirus twice, on different days, within 96 hours before their flight to Japan. They will be tested again upon arrival.
They are expected to download an app that will monitor their location and be used for contact tracing, and to activate the app and location services when they land in Japan.
Athletes will be required to self-quarantine for three days after arrival. They will be allowed to do Games-related activities during this time, provided they are negative every day and accept stricter supervision from Tokyo 2020 staff.
Athletes will need to report their temperature and any symptoms daily via a smartphone app. They can also have their temperature checked every time they enter an Olympic venue and may be banned from entering if the temperature rises above 99.5 degrees a second time after a cool-down period.
Athletes will be tested for the coronavirus daily via a rapid salivary antigen test. If the result is positive or unclear, a slower but more accurate PCR test will be performed using the same saliva sample. (For the differences between these tests, read it.)
If the athlete is confirmed positive for the virus, he will be immediately isolated and contact tracing will be carried out. The playbook does not say whether the athlete would be automatically banned from competing.
What happens to those who are identified as close contact of a confirmed positive will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, but a negative test result would be required to compete.
Athletes cannot hug or kick five
Athletes should stay two meters – or around six and a half feet – apart from others, except in situations such as being on the playing field. Physical interactions such as hugs, handshakes, and high-fives are discouraged, which is a blow to classic athletic gestures.
At meal times, athletes should stand two meters away from others – or eat alone.
Athletes staying in the Olympic Village must eat there or at specially authorized venues or other locations. Those staying elsewhere may only eat at the Games venue catering facilities, their hotel restaurant, or in their room using room service or food delivery.
They can’t play tourist
Playing a tourist in Japan – or doing anything other than preparing and competing – is not permitted for athletes.
The playbook states that athletes can only leave their accommodation to go to the official Games venues and to limited additional locations, as defined by the list of permitted destinations.
Athletes must wear masks almost all the time
Unless they eat, drink, sleep, train or compete, athletes must be masked.
Athletes must use dedicated Olympic vehicles to get around and can only use public transport if it is the only option, for example to reach remote venues.
Foreign media can be tracked by GPS
Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto says overseas media will likely be monitored by GPS to make sure they don’t go to places they’re not allowed to go, according to News from Japan.
Organizers have reduced the number of places where foreign journalists will be accommodated from 350 to 150, according to the news site – and will be barred from staying with local friends or other unregistered places.
Foreign journalists could have their credentials withdrawn if they travel to places they did not report in advance.