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A state of emergency has been imposed on Tokyo and a number of other prefectures. Photo: EPA-EFE

Coronavirus: Japan cuts size of foreign Olympics delegations as opposition to Games grows

  • Some 69,000 people, from athletes to diplomats, are expected to arrive at a time several Japanese prefectures are in a state of emergency
  • While the figure is far below the original 200,000, one expert says it’s still ‘too high’, with China alone sending 500 media workers
Organisers of the Tokyo Olympic Games say they have lowered the number of foreigners coming to Japan as athletes, support staff or media workers to about 69,000, although a leading infections expert is calling for that figure to be cut even further.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, the government, the organising committee and the International Olympic Committee ( IOC) were anticipating around 200,000 foreign athletes, team officials, IOC members, media staff, and representatives of sponsors to travel to Tokyo for the largest sporting event in Japan’s history.

With the virus still spreading in much of Japan, a state of emergency imposed on Tokyo and a number of other prefectures, and Covid-19 variants emerging, that figure has been cut by more than half.

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Officials now expect 15,000 athletes to arrive in Japan, along with 10,000 coaches and team officials, and a further 43,000 accredited personnel, such as IOC staff and media. An estimated 25,000 people are due to attend the Paralympics.

Chinese government officials told the IOC on Tuesday that they would be sending more than 500 reporters to cover the Games.

“They need to bring the numbers down lower because I think that is still too many,” said Yoko Tsukamoto, a professor of infection control at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido.

“Anything they can do to reduce the total number of people coming into Japan, they should do,” she said. “I don’t say that only because I’m worried that more people can come into Japan with new mutations of the virus, but also because we have a lot of cases here already, and foreigners could very easily be infected during the Games and then take it back to their home countries.

“If there are that many media people from China coming, then I am afraid there is a high likelihood of at least some of them being infected,” she said. “And if they take a new mutation back to China, then it could very easily spread again and that would be terrible.”


‘Almost impossible’ to send doctors, nurses to Olympics, says Japanese medical association

‘Almost impossible’ to send doctors, nurses to Olympics, says Japanese medical association

An official of the organising committee declined to provide details on the number of people who will be travelling to Tokyo for the Games from individual countries, either as athletes, officials or media, but he added that the organisers had already committed to “reducing the number of visiting officials to this summer’s games by half, at least”.

“Further reductions are possible,” he said.

New measures to avoid infections spreading include a ban on foreign dignitaries meeting athletes from their nations, and to avoid using public transport. VIPs will also need to take a Covid-19 test before travelling to Japan and another after arriving, while there will be a limit of 12 support staff for each head of state, and a maximum of five for a minister.

In return, the Japanese government will waive the requirement that anyone arriving from overseas undergo a 14-day quarantine period.

Majority of residents at Tokyo Olympic Village to be vaccinated by IOC

IOC President Thomas Bach on Wednesday said that 75 per cent of the people staying at the athletes’ village in Tokyo had either been vaccinated or are due to be inoculated before the Games start, and that the organisation is willing to provide medical personnel to support national teams while they are in Japan.

Tsukamoto said the 75 per cent figure was “very worrying and very disappointing”, adding that it needed to be above 90 per cent to have any chance of stopping the virus spreading in a relatively confined area.

“We know that not all the countries that want to send athletes to Tokyo are wealthy and there are shortages of the vaccine,” she said.

Are Tokyo, IOC running out of time to make a decision on the Olympics?

The B.1.617.2 virus variant, which was first reported in India, has already spread to 44 nations, including Japan, and is an added concern for the organisers.

That worry was heightened after health authorities confirmed that the B.1.617.2 mutation was detected in an outbreak in Gunma Prefecture, central Japan, but were unable to trace the source of the infections.

Japan reported 5,723 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, with 106 additional fatalities, including 32 in hard-hit Osaka Prefecture. Tokyo reported 843 new cases, down by 167 from one week previously.


Protests grow to cancel Tokyo Olympics as Covid-19 outbreak worsens in Japan

Protests grow to cancel Tokyo Olympics as Covid-19 outbreak worsens in Japan

On Friday, the southern prefecture of Okinawa was added to the list of regions subject to state of emergency limitations, bringing the total to 10 prefectures. The state of emergency is initially expected to be in place for one month, although it could be extended.

An expert panel on Thursday recommended the approval of coronavirus vaccines manufactured by Moderna and AstraZeneca, which may ease some of the pressure on the government over the slow roll-out of its vaccination programme.

The Pfizer vaccine is the only one that has been approved in Japan to date and less than 4 per cent of the 126 million population have so far been inoculated, by far the lowest amount among the Group of 7 nations.

Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Japanese are opposed to the Games going ahead, with a new Reuters study of companies indicating that nearly 70 per cent of firms also believe the Games should be cancelled or postponed again. That figure is up from 65 per cent in a survey in February.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Olympic delegation sizes cut as Games opposition mounts