The president of the International Paralympic Committee said Monday the ongoing sporting event for athletes with disabilities in Tokyo has exceeded his expectations since starting about a week ago despite being held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"It's been really fantastic so far; we are providing a safe environment to the athletes; we are also protecting the Japanese population at the same time," Andrew Parsons said at a press conference to mark the halfway point of the 13-day Paralympics.
While some COVID-19 cases have been reported among participants and workers related to the games, Parsons said the organizers have been taking adequate measures to prevent the virus from spreading, adding that the "key" is to track infections and isolate those who test positive from others.
Toshiro Muto, CEO of the organizing committee, also said the Paralympics have been "generally going smoothly" since they opened on Aug. 24 following a one-year postponement.
"So far, there have been no problems having a major impact on the operation of the games," Muto told the same press conference.
He said no serious COVID-19 cases have been reported among athletes and staff members at the Paralympics and positive rates remain very low.
Parsons, who is attending his first Summer Paralympics as IPC chief, said one of the best moments has been welcoming two athletes from Afghanistan after being evacuated from their country, now under the control of the Taliban.
The two are female para-taekwondo athlete Zakia Khudadadi and male track athlete Hossain Rasouli, who left Afghanistan a week ago and arrived Saturday evening in Tokyo on a flight from Paris.
"It was absolutely fantastic to welcome them when they arrived in Tokyo and to speak with Hossain and Zakia and to understand a little bit what they have been through," Parsons said.
The Paralympics, the world's biggest event for athletes with impairments, began after the number of daily COVID-19 cases repeatedly reached record levels in Tokyo and elsewhere following the start of the Olympics in late July.
Like the Olympics, which ended Aug. 8, participants in the Paralympics are required to follow strict COVID-19 rules, while venues are largely closed to the public.
The organizing committee on Monday reported another 11 cases of COVID-19 associated with the Paralympics, bringing the cumulative total since Aug. 12 to 241. The daily count included seven contractors and an athlete, who was staying in the athletes' village.
The committee has conducted over 866,000 screening tests on Olympic and Paralympic-related individuals since July 1, and the positivity rate is 0.03 percent, it said.
Muto also said a total of 25 cases of heat-related illness were reported in the five days through Aug. 28. Of the total, 15 were among Paralympians, but he said none was serious.
In regard to an accident in which a visually impaired Paralympian was hit last week by a Toyota Motor Corp. autonomous bus running in the athletes' village, Muto said police inspected the site of the collision and questioned people involved on Sunday.
"As the organizing committee operates the athletes' village, it is our priority to ensure safety in the village," Muto said.