TOKYO – The opening ceremony is Friday and the first competitions are Wednesday. But organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, postponed for a year by the pandemic, are struggling to cope with public fear of the Games after a string of coronavirus cases threatens to overshadow the festivities.
When around 20,000 athletes, coaches, referees and other officials flocked to Japan in the past few days, more than two dozen of them tested positive for the virus, including three cases in the Olympic Village. Another 33 employees or contractors based in Japan working on the games tested positive.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee confirmed Monday that a representative of the women’s gymnastics team tested positive for the coronavirus while training in Chiba Prefecture, outside Tokyo.
Despite the vaccination, Kara Eaker, 18, of Grain Valley, Missouri, tested positive early Monday and began a 10- to 14-day quarantine, her trainer Al Fong said in a text message from Tokyo later that day. He added that she is “fine”.
Fong also said that Leanne Wong, another deputy and teammate of Eaker at his GAGE Center gym in Blue Springs, Missouri, is also under quarantine, which is expected to last through July 31, as she is considered a close liaison.
17-year-old Wong, from Overland Park, Kansas, said at the Olympics earlier this month that she had not been vaccinated.
US women’s basketball also took a hit with the news that Katie Lou Samuelson, a member of the 3×3 Olympic team, would miss the games after a positive test result. Ms. Samuelson was fully vaccinated and had taken all precautions, she said.
“It has been my dream to attend the Olympics since I was a little girl and I hope that one day I can come back to make that dream come true,” Ms. Samuelson, 24, wrote in an Instagram post.
The U.S. men’s national basketball team traveled to Tokyo on Monday without security guard Zach LaVine, who entered coronavirus health and safety logs. In a statement, Team USA said it was hopeful that Mr. LaVine could rejoin the team later this week. The U.S. men’s basketball team reshuffled their squad last week after losing guard Bradley Beal to health and safety protocols and striker Kevin Love retiring from participation.
Olympics organizers have said their measures – including repeated testing, social distancing and restricted mobility – would limit, but not eliminate, coronavirus cases. The games originally planned for 2020 have been postponed for a year in hopes the pandemic would have weakened and they would herald a triumphant return to normal.
Instead, they have become a reminder of the staying power of the virus and fueled a debate over whether Japan and the International Olympic Committee are clear on their priorities.
The discomfort is so great that Toyota, one of the Games’ main corporate sponsors, announced on Monday that it would not run any Olympic television commercials during the Games.
Basics of the Summer Olympics
“There are many issues with these games that are proving difficult to understand,” said Jun Nagata, the company’s chief communications officer, to reporters for the Associated Press.
The three people who tested positive in the Olympic Village were from the South African soccer team, including two athletes and an official. They have been isolated in a separate building while another 21 people in close contact with them are being quarantined in their rooms.
Masa Takaya, a spokesman for the Tokyo Organizing Committee, said athletes who have been in close contact with people who test positive are allowed to exercise if they otherwise adhere to the isolation restrictions. Athletes are tested daily and if they test negative within six hours of a competition they are allowed to play.
Another six athletes and two Olympic employees from Great Britain are also isolating themselves after a person tested positive for the coronavirus at the airport on their flight to Tokyo.
The Associated Press reported that Ondřej Perušič ‘, a beach volleyball player competing for the Czech Republic, also tested positive in the Olympic Village.
Speaking at a press conference over the weekend, Christophe Dubi, Sports Director of the International Olympic Committee said “there is no such thing as zero risk,” adding: the Olympic Village would be “a Covid-safe environment, but not Covid-free”.
The Japanese public remains concerned about the Olympics amid the slow adoption of vaccines and the recent surge in coronavirus cases in the capital. For the first time since mid-May, the daily number of cases exceeded the 1,000 mark for several days. Tokyo is in a state of emergency. A poll published over the weekend by Kyodo News, a news service, found that 87 percent of respondents said they were concerned about hosting the Olympics during the pandemic.