A third visiting Olympian has tested positive for the coronavirus upon arrival in Japan, the latest test for the strict health protocols in place meant to prevent the virus’s spread ahead of the Tokyo Games set to kick off later this month.
A male member of Serbia’s five-member rowing team in his 30s tested positive for the virus after landing at Haneda airport Saturday night, Takashi Ikeda, an official in the Japanese city of Nanto, where Serbia’s players are scheduled to train, told Reuters.
The man has been sent to a medical facility and the other four members to a separate isolation site, so they will be unlikely to train in Nanto ahead of the games, Ikeda told Reuters.
All Olympians visiting Japan are required to test for the virus before departure and after their arrival. While being vaccinated is not a requirement, Olympic officials say they expect more than 80% of participants to be inoculated against the coronavirus. Once inside Japan, athletes are required to adhere to a litany of health protocols, such as limiting contact to only those in their designated social bubble.
Despite the plans on paper, public health experts have warned that the virus is likely to find a way in given the huge influx of people from all over the world at a time when highly-contagious variants are spreading.
Complicating matters, Japan itself has been fighting back a surge in cases coupled with low vaccination rates. On Saturday, Tokyo confirmed 716 new covid-19 cases, the highest increase in over five weeks, according to Reuters.
In June, two members of Uganda’s Olympic team tested positive after arriving in Japan, despite being vaccinated with Oxford-AstraZeneca shots. Uganda has been battling its worst outbreak yet, which scientists say is being fueled by highly infectious variants alongside low vaccination rates and limited hospital resources and health care access.
Later that month, Japan’s Emperor Naruhito issued a rare statement challenging both the Japanese government and the Olympic committee’s insistence that the Games, already postponed once due to the pandemic, can be safely held this year.
“His majesty is very worried about the current infection situation of the covid-19 disease,” said Yasuhiko Nishimura, grand steward of the agency, the Kyodo News agency reported.
“I suppose that he is concerned that while there are voices of anxiety among the public, the event may lead to the expansion of infections,” Nishimura said.
Around 38 percent of Serbians have received at least on shot of the coronavirus vaccine, according to Reuters’ vaccine tracker. The Balkan country offers doses produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, China’s Sinopharm, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V. It was not immediately clear which of the vaccines the Olympian had received.
Olympic organizers have stressed that despite the challenges the games will go on.
So far, foreign spectators have been banned and a scaled-down number of domestic spectators allowed. Only 10,000 spectators, or about 50 percent of a venue’s capacity, depending on which is smaller, will be permitted, though these calculations exclude VIPs and officials, among others.
Japanese officials say that more restrictions on the games could be applied if cases continue to rise.