As Japan welcomes athletes, support staff and journalists from around the world to the Tokyo 2020 Games, COVID-19 cases continue to increase in the city and the country.
Several teams have already seen positive tests for COVID-19 before the opening ceremony began. The South African men’s soccer team was the first to have athletes tested positive within the village. Even Team USA has been affected by the coronavirus, as alternate gymnast Kara Eaker tested positive during training camp, and tennis star Coco Gauff retired before the Games after testing positive.
Olympic organizers reported 19 new cases on Friday, the highest total of COVID-19 cases in a single day so far, including three athletes and three residents of the Olympic Village. Of the new cases, four are residents of Japan, while the remaining 15 are non-residents.
This latest update brought the total known Olympic Games-related cases from July 1 to 106. Meanwhile, Tokyo reported 1,979 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, its highest total in six months.
Positive cases are likely to continue to rise as the Olympics unfold, and so far at least eight athletes have been ruled out since testing positive after arriving in Japan.
Here’s an overview of the testing protocols, vaccine rules, and restrictions athletes face at the 2020 Olympics.
What are the testing protocols and vaccination requirements for Olympic athletes?
The tests began before the athletes and all the participants of the Games arrived in Tokyo. They needed to produce two negative tests to board a plane to Japan: one at least 96 hours and one performed at least 72 hours before departure.
Participants, including medical staff, trainers and journalists, underwent a saliva test upon arrival and had to wait at the airport until they received a negative result. If an athlete tested positive, they had to completely isolate themselves or go to the hospital for treatment.
Once in Tokyo, athletes must undergo daily saliva tests. If they stay inside the Olympic Village, their temperature is taken each time they return.
The COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory for Olympic athletes, and the restrictions, as well as most protocols, are the same regardless of the athlete’s vaccination status.
USOPC Medical Director Jonathan Finnoff said Friday that about 83% of the US team is vaccinated.
What restrictions do they face?
The Olympic Games will take place in a bubble-like environment.
Everyone at the Games should wear masks at all times, distance themselves socially, and take standard measures to limit the spread of the virus, such as frequent hand washing. Some sport-specific measures were also added, such as clapping instead of singing or yelling to cheer on teammates.
In addition, athletes cannot take public transport and can only leave their accommodation to go to the official Olympic venues. If they violate the protocols, they could face a number of consequences, including disqualification from the Games.
Athletes are not required to stay inside the Olympic Village, although it is strongly recommended. The USA Gymnastics team, for example, are staying in a separate hotel. Accommodations must be certified by the Tokyo 2020 organizers.
What happens if an athlete tests positive?
An athlete who tests positive for COVID-19 cannot compete and is immediately placed in isolation. The Japanese health authorities determine the length of isolation based on the severity of the individual’s symptoms.
The IOC published specific guidelines for sports to find out how the competitions proceed if there is a positive test in the group stage or in a knockout round. However, there are three points that apply across the board.
- No athlete or team will be listed as “disqualified” for submitting a positive test. Instead, they will appear as “DNS” (did not start) or an equivalent designation to a sport if they cannot compete.
- According to the IOC Executive Board: “The minimum result of the athlete / team will be protected, considering the phase of the competition in which they could not compete.”
- The next most eligible athlete or team will replace an athlete or team who is unable to compete whenever possible to allow the competition to continue as usual.
More coverage of the Olympics:
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.