Japan plans to require athletes competing at the postponed Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next summer to take coronavirus tests every four to five days even if they do not show symptoms, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of infections, a government-led panel said Wednesday.
The policy, which obliges all people staying at the athletes' village to get tested every 96 to 120 hours in principle, was included in an interim report released by the panel tasked with creating safety measures for the Summer Games after holding six meetings since September.
Toshiro Muto, CEO of the Tokyo organizing committee, said the report was crafted on the premise that the games can be held even without effective vaccines.
Japan is considering allowing the attendance of spectators from overseas, exempting them from its 14-day quarantine requirement if they are from countries with relatively fewer virus cases, according to the panel, consisting of the central and Tokyo metropolitan governments, and the games organizing committee.
Spectators from abroad will likely be asked to download a contact-tracing smartphone app and report on their health, but they will be permitted to use public transportation.
Japan will make the decision by spring next year whether to admit overseas fans after taking into consideration the situation of the pandemic, according to officials.
The virus countermeasures at the athletes' village, which is expected to accommodate up to around 10,000 people during the games, has been one of the major concerns for the organizers.
The village, located in the Harumi waterfront district in Tokyo, will be equipped with facilities to test athletes and analyze the results. To prevent an outbreak from occurring at the village, athletes will be asked to check out promptly after they finish competing in the games, according to the report.
"(The measures) will allow athletes to feel secure, thus focusing on their events," said Tsuyoshi Fukui, secretary general of the Japanese Olympic Committee.
But he noted there are still issues that must be discussed, including how to carry out the tests and anti-virus measures at the opening and closing ceremonies.
The report was released amid rising hopes coronavirus vaccines will start being rolled out ahead of the games. However, Japan and other parts of the world have experienced a resurgence of the virus in recent weeks.
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Japan has been trying to gain public support and build momentum as many people in the country question hosting the Olympics and Paralympics due to concerns over safety and ballooning costs.
The Olympics and Paralympics were postponed in March due to the global health crisis. Since then, the organizing committee has sought to simplify the games and cut spending where possible.
While the games were initially estimated to cost around 1.35 trillion yen ($12.8 billion), the organizers now expect the postponement to drive up the total price tag by some 200 billion yen, according to sources familiar with the matter.
An extra 100 billion yen is expected to be spent on novel coronavirus countermeasures, the sources said.
Based on the interim report, the central and metropolitan governments, and the organizing committee will begin discussions to determine how much of the additional burden each will shoulder.
With less than eight months until the opening of the Olympics, the Japanese capital is seeing a spike in virus infections. On Friday, it reported 570 new coronavirus infections, marking the highest level on record.
Last month, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said during his visit to Tokyo that his organization will shoulder the cost of coronavirus vaccines for visiting athletes and officials if vaccines are developed in time for the Olympics.
Britain said Wednesday it has given emergency approval to a COVID-19 vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech SE and that it will be made available from next week.
The following is the gist of an interim report released Wednesday on COVID-19 measures Japan plans to implement during the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games next year.
The report says athletes:
-- need to obtain certificates with negative test results within 72 hours of arrival and then take virus test every 96 to 120 hours while staying at athletes' village.
-- to be tested upon arrival at airport if from countries and regions with entry ban to Japan.
-- to travel on designated vehicles.
-- can compete during mandatory 14-day quarantine period if following virus prevention measures.
-- to decide on sanitation leader by group and follow code of conduct.
-- to be advised if rules are broken.
-- cannot compete if they test positive for virus.
-- may be allowed to compete if they test positive and are asymptomatic but produce negative result in retest.
-- to follow measures if they receive two positive results.
-- to return to home country as soon as their competition has concluded, apart from post interactions with host town.
The report also says:
-- Olympic organizing committee and international sports federations to determine virus measures by sport by June next year.
-- separate support guidelines to be set up for Paralympic athletes.
-- organizers to set up medical facilities capable of treating suspected coronavirus patients.
-- people to generally maintain 2-meter distance when interacting with athletes.
-- people to be asked to avoid "3Cs" -- confined spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings -- wear masks and use disinfectant.
-- limits to spectator numbers and decision to accept visitors from abroad to be set by spring next year.
-- visitors from countries and regions with controlled virus conditions to be exempt from quarantine and can use public transportation.
-- government considering use of smartphone app to follow actions and health condition of visitors.
-- spectators who refuse to heed warnings may be refused entry or ejected from venue.
-- measures to prevent spread of virus for Olympic torch relay to be prepared by end of year.
-- torch relay participants from abroad to be subject to immigration restrictions set at time.
-- host towns and visiting countries and regions to mutually sign agreement on rules during stay.