The first COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in the Olympic Village days before the Tokyo Games begin, demonstrating the challenges of hosting a huge international sporting event during a pandemic.
Two South African soccer players were the first athletes inside the athletes’ village to test positive for the coronavirus, the country’s football association said on Sunday. A video analyst and a rugby coach also tested positive.
The infections are likely to fuel worries among Japanese residents of a wider outbreak caused by Olympic participants, especially given the Delta variant’s contagiousness.
Last week, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said there was “zero” risk an athlete could infect someone outside the village. But as more than 11,000 athletes from 200-plus nations continue to arrive in Japan before the games’ Friday opening, the Olympic organizers’ safety reassurances will soon be put to a real-life test.
The Tokyo Games organizers have implemented a wide range of measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including rules to bar teams from mingling or leaving the Olympic Village.
Olympic participants are extensively tested for the virus even before they fly to Japan. They are tested again on arrival as well as daily throughout the games. Those who test positive will receive medical treatment and isolate at a hospital, according to the Olympic playbook.
Athletes who test positive for COVID-19 during the events must immediately isolate and inform their assigned liaison officer and won’t be allowed to continue competing. The liaison officer will also trace and track an athlete’s possible contacts.
However, the positive test results of the South African athletes show efforts to contain the virus are far from straightforward.
According to the South African Football Association, the players have undergone daily tests upon arrival, as recommended by the Olympic organizers. They have also followed other mandated measures, such as keeping a physical distance and wearing masks, the association said.
Dr. Phatho Zondi, the chief medical officer of the South African team, said the virus was likely incubating in the athletes when they were tested in South Africa, which explains how they “could be negative in South Africa and then positive in Japan,” she said in a press release.
If an athlete is identified as a close contact of someone who tested positive for the virus, they’re only allowed to rejoin their teams if their daily PCR tests are negative and they secure a medical expert’s approval.
On Sunday, eight members of the British Olympic team were forced to self-isolate after being identified as close contacts of someone who tested possible for the virus on a flight to Tokyo.
The British athletes are expected to quarantine for 48 hours and pass two PCR tests before joining their team members again, the Guardian reported.
In total, 55 people linked to the Olympics, including athletes, staff, and contractors, have tested positive for COVID-19 since July 1.