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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

Mission Olympics: Japan prepares to open borders despite COVID

No quarantine for athletes, but potential disqualification for violating protocol

Japan is moving to easing entry restrictions for foreign athletes ahead of the Olympics scheduled for next summer. (Getty Images)

TOKYO -- Japan has begun preparations to accept foreign athletes for the Tokyo Summer Olympics, aiming to host the full games after a year of delay by the pandemic while ensuring the safety of participants.

Immigration control, testing and transit within Japan for the athletes were among the topics discussed by officials from the government, the Japan Olympic Committee and the host city of Tokyo on Wednesday. Japan is expected to ease entry restrictions for overseas visitors starting next month.

Under current restrictions, foreigners entering Japan must self-isolate for 14 days in designated locations. The government plan waives the quarantine requirement for foreign athletes, allowing them to train and prepare.

But the athletes would be asked to refrain from going anywhere other than the Olympic village, their hotel and training grounds. They would need to log their movement within the country and the mode of transportation. Athletes who violate the guidelines would be potentially barred from participating in the Olympics.

The health ministry is considering the use of its Cocoa contact-tracing app and GPS to help prevent outbreaks. One plan would distribute smartphones to all athletes, providing a way to trace those who come in close contact with people testing positive.

Athletes will be required to have proof of testing negative within 72 hours of departing for Japan. Additional testing would take place upon entering the country, as well as at their training camps, the Olympic village, and the event venues. The timing and frequency of tests will be decided later.

When moving between training camp, the Olympic village and venues, athletes will be asked to avoid public transportation and take designated vehicles instead.

The government seeks to ensure that protocols do not vary by training camp and cities hosting athletes. It will craft guidelines for local governments to use in preparing handbooks that detail transit planning for athletes, zoning within hotels, and how to handle positive cases. The government will assist municipalities that have trouble with health care and testing capabilities.

Major sports tournaments have been held in the U.S. and Europe with strict coronavirus countermeasures.

A sign at the U.S. Open tennis tournament reminds onlookers of proper health and safety protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.   © Reuters

In tennis, the U.S. Open in New York City did not allow participants to enter without a negative PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Players were retested within 48 hours and then once every four days. Anyone testing positive would be immediately disqualified, according to the rules. Of the 6,500 tests conducted during the tournament, 99.97% came back negative.

The Women's British Open, held in August, was closed to spectators, with players restricted to their hotels and the golf course. PCR tests were mandatory for the 500 people involved in the event.

Noting the public's positive reception of sports resuming around the world, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in an open letter Tuesday, "We also see that sport can be organized safely, even under the ongoing restrictions."

In a phone call with Bach on Wednesday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, "We hope to continue to work together to hold a safe Olympics."

The Japanese government, seeking to avoid the outright cancellation of the Summer Games, will work toward detailing coronavirus countermeasures.

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