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Tokyo 2020 Olympics

One-week countdown to Tokyo Olympics begins

Bubbles and traffic plans checked as COVID-19 cases surge in capital

Members of the Belgian team arrive at Narita Airport on July 15. About 11,000 athletes are expected to participate in the Tokyo Olympics.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- With a week to go before the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympics on July 23, Japan is ramping up preparations for the arrival of athletes, coaches and staff from around the world.

Nearly all Olympic venues in Tokyo have been blocked off to regular traffic as of Thursday, while Olympic organizers plan to keep athletes in their own bubble to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

The Summer Games will kick off as the Japanese capital, under a fourth state of emergency, confronts another wave of COVID-19 infections, logging more than 1,000 new cases for the second straight day on Thursday.

Roughly 11,090 athletes from over 200 countries and regions will participate in the Olympics. More than 2,600 already are in Japan, with the rest largely scheduled to arrive between Saturday and Monday.

The Japanese government also expects about 30 world leaders to attend the opening ceremony. The guest list includes French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. first lady Jill Biden.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga on Thursday observed safety measures in place at the Tokyo area's Narita Airport, which will serve as a gateway for international arrivals.

"I hope -- and believe -- that the Games' organizers will be able to work with the International Olympic Committee" to increase the effectiveness of the bubble, he said.

Though less traffic is expected around Tokyo now that the Olympic events there will be held without spectators, as many as 2,000 buses and 2,700 cars may be required daily to transport athletes and staff throughout the weekslong Games.

Road closures have begun around Japan's National Stadium in Tokyo. (Photo by Takashi Uema)

Tokyo and neighboring Chiba Prefecture will designate priority or reserved lanes for Olympic-related use near major venues starting Monday so athletes and staff can move between them with minimal delays.

The Tokyo organizers also have developed a system called T-TOSS with Toyota Motor, which tracks traffic conditions in real time and directs athlete shuttles to the best routes.

Meanwhile, logistics providers and retailers are bracing for widespread disruptions to their operations in the area during the event. Japan Post expects one-day delays for package deliveries in 10 prefectures including Tokyo starting Monday. Courier services Yamato Transport and Sagawa Express also warned customers they may experience delays.

Seven-Eleven parent Seven & i Holdings, as well as rivals FamilyMart and Lawson, will adjust delivery schedules to their convenience stores near Olympic venues depending on traffic. They want to ensure locations are well stocked, with the spectator ban expected to boost demand for snacks and beverages among fans watching the Games at home.

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