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July 20, 2021

The Tokyo Games will be 'Covid-safe'—but not 'Covid-free,' the International Olympic Committee says

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    Even as multiple athletes—including three in the Olympic Village—have tested positive for Covid-19, officials from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) say the Games remain "a Covid-safe environment."

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    How IOC is trying to prevent the spread of Covid-19

    IOC has implemented several layers of measures intended to prevent the coronavirus from spreading at the Olympic Games, which are scheduled to kick off later this week on July 23.

    In addition to banning spectators from events, IOC is:

    • Offering vaccinations to all athletes—although athletes are not required to accept them;
    • Requiring all athletes who are traveling internationally to be tested twice for Covid-19 in the days before they depart for Japan, as well as upon arrival and each day during the Games;
    • Mandating that athletes wear masks nearly all the time unless eating, drinking, sleeping, training, or competing, and maintain two meters of spacing from other people;
    • Limiting where athletes and foreign media can go outside of official Games venues; and
    • Requiring anyone in close contact with someone who has tested positive for infection to undergo a nose swab PCR test every day and to quarantine.

    But some health experts worry that outbreaks could still occur. Among their concerns are that athletes could be exposed to the virus by Games staff, some of whom won't be tested as regularly as athletes themselves, and that the Olympic Village may provide inadequate ventilation.

    At least 58 people associated with the Games have tested positive so far

    According to the Associated Press, since July 1, 22,000 athletes, officials, and journalists have arrived in Japan for the Olympic Games. Overall, 58 people connected to the Olympics, including athletes, staff, officials, and contractors, have tested positive for coronavirus—a tally that doesn't yet include the two additional athletes who tested positive over the weekend, AP reports.

    Among those who have tested positive are:

    • 17-year-old U.S. tennis star Coco Gauff, who announced on Sunday that she tested positive for Covid-19 and will miss the Olympic Games;
    • An alternate for the U.S. women's gymnastics team, who tested positive for the virus after arriving in Japan; and
    • Six athletes and two staff members from the British track and field team, who also tested positive following their arrival in Tokyo.

    In addition, AP reports that three athletes have tested positive for Covid-19 while at the Olympic village, including Ondřej Perušič, a member of the Czech men's beach volleyball team, and two members of the South Africa men's soccer team.

    According to AP, all infected players are quarantining in an "isolation facility."

    How are athletes being infected?

    Some officials have said that, because the coronavirus's incubation period is up to 14 days, athletes who tested positive after arriving in Japan may have been exposed in their home countries.

    For instance, Phatho Zondi, the chief medical officer for the South African men's soccer team, said the incubation period was likely why positive cases on his team went undetected until their arrival at the Games. According to the Washington Post, everyone on the team tested negative twice within 96 hours of departing for Tokyo, but then—after arrival—two athletes and a video analyst tested positive.

    Additionally, most Olympians traveled to Tokyo via commercial flights, the Post reports, which carry some risk of exposure to the coronavirus. For example, both the Kenyan women's and South African men's rugby teams took commercial flights on which at least one passenger subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, according to the Post.

    What happens next?

    IOC officials said that despite the confirmed infections, they have established a safe environment to protect athletes and the public from the coronavirus, the Post reports.

    "It is unavoidable that we have some cases—we have some cases," Christophe Dubi, Olympic Games executive director for the IOC, said. "What is needed is some swift actions. I don't think we can ever say 'Covid free'—I don’t think we said it. Covid-safe is a different approach. … It's a Covid-safe environment, and they are really insistent on this." (Dunbar, Associated Press, 7/19; Lee, Washington Post, 7/18; Reed, Axios, 7/19; Bachman et al., Wall Street Journal, 7/18)

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