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Tokyo 2020: First Covid-19 case reported in Olympic Village days before games opening ceremony

“Organizers must try to make sure that people will understand that these games are safe and secure,” Tokyo Olympic President Seiko Hashimoto said.
Image: Olympics - International Olympic Committee news conference
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach insisted there was "zero risk" of the athletes infecting anybody outside the sealed-off section of Tokyo.PHIL NOBLE / Reuters

TOKYO — Covid-19 has infiltrated the Olympic Village.

A day after International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach insisted there was “zero risk” of the athletes infecting anybody outside the sealed-off section of Tokyo, the head of the organizing committee confirmed Saturday that a person staying there tested positive for the disease.

Tokyo Olympic President Seiko Hashimoto told a news conference the infected person was not an athlete but rather somebody who is involved in organizing the games. She declined to identify the individual's nationality but acknowledged the revelation will not reassure her nervous compatriots.

“I understand that there are still many worrying factors,” Hashimoto said. “Organizers must try to make sure that people will understand that these games are safe and secure.”

"We are sparing no efforts," she added.

With polls showing many Japanese people opposed to holding the sporting showpiece in the midst of a pandemic, “safe and secure” has become the mantra of Japanese government and IOC officials working hard to reassure the country that the sudden influx of athletes and visitors from abroad won’t turn the games into an Olympic superspreader event.

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Most of the 11,000 athletes competing in the games, which begin July 23 and run through Aug. 8, will be staying in the 109-acre waterfront area.

Most are still en route to Japan, but already around 40 people with ties to the games — both local Japanese and foreigners — have tested positive for Covid-19, Olympic officials have said.

An alarming increase in new Covid-19 cases resulted in Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga announcing a state of emergency in Tokyo last week. As a result, there will be no fans cheering those athletes on, and signature Olympic events like the opening and closing ceremonies will likely lack the pomp and pageantry of earlier games.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan Olympic team was getting international attention for all the wrong reasons.

Two members of Uganda’s Olympic delegation, an athlete in his 20s and a coach in his 50s, became the first competitors to test positive for Covid-19 last month upon arriving in Tokyo and were barred from going any further.

Perhaps more embarrassing for both Uganda and Japanese customs officials charged with stopping the pandemic from spreading, the rest of the team was allowed to travel onto their training camp near the city of Osaka even though they had been in close contact with their infected teammates.

Then on Friday, a 20-year-old Ugandan weightlifter named Julius Ssekitoleko, who had failed to win a spot on the team, was reported missing after he failed to show up for a Covid-19 test at the training camp, which is located near Osaka in Izumisano.

“They are still looking for this athlete,” Hashimoto said Saturday.

Asked if Ssekitoleko’s days as an Olympic hopeful are done, Hashimoto said: “I haven’t received any reports of anyone finding him, but unless we hear his explanation, it’s hard for us to decide what action to take.”

Beatrice Ayikoru, who heads the Ugandan delegation, said Ssekitoleko and his coach were supposed to return to Uganda on Tuesday. She said he left a note saying he wanted to stay in Japan and find work.

But Ayikoru told The Japan Times that during team meetings in Uganda and in Japan they repeatedly emphasized “the need to respect the immigration regulations of Japan and not opt to leave the camp without authorization.”

Uganda has been competing in the Summer Olympics since 1956 and has won a total seven medals — two gold, three silver, two bronze.

Four of the medals Uganda has won were for boxing. The others were for athletics. The last time a Ugandan won a medal was at the 2012 Olympics in London when long-distance runner Stephen Kiprotich won the marathon and the gold medal.