— Published 28 June 2021

Japan tightens rules on Delta variant


The news in Tokyo is not very good, with less than four weeks to go before the opening of the Tokyo Games. Japanese organisers are facing one of the many disaster scenarios that have been multiplying since the sanitary crisis began and the event was postponed: the discovery of COVID-19 cases in foreign delegations.

The first case was detected on Saturday, June 19th, a coach from the Ugandan team, who tested positive on arrival at Tokyo’s Narita airport. He was placed in isolation. A second member of the delegation, an athlete, tested positive three days later during a daily check at his hotel in the city of Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture. He too was isolated from the rest of the team.

Both Ugandans were vaccinated. They had tested negative before leaving for Japan. Since then, Japanese authorities have confirmed that they had caught the Delta variant, the name now given to the Indian variant, which is more contagious than the original virus.

The Japanese had anticipated this, so they were quick to react. Unsurprisingly, in the last few hours, they have announced a new series of measures to further strengthen sanitary precautions.

First, athletes and members of a foreign delegation with one or more cases of COVID-19 upon arrival in Japan will be immediately placed in isolation. The Ugandans were not placed in isolation on Saturday, June 19th, after a positive case was discovered among the staff. The rest of the team was able to leave the airport and travel by special bus to their base camp in Osaka Prefecture.

Hidemasa Nakamura, one of the operations managers at the organising committee, explained on Sunday, June 27th: “We will immediately take steps to isolate and test all people who have travelled with a positive person, even before determining whether they have been in close contact with an infected person.”

After the discovery of a second COVID-19 case among the Ugandan delegation, the organisers were criticised for their lack of attention to the issue. They were criticised for allowing the rest of the delegation to leave the airport and stick to their original plans, with a long journey to the town of Izumisano.

For the athletes, this new situation will not be without consequences. They could be asked to stay in Tokyo in an isolation centre because of this travel with an infected person. They would then not be able to return to their pre-Olympic training grounds until they had completed a period of isolation.

In another new sanitary measure, the Japanese government has decided, according to several media reports, to require members of delegations from six foreign countries to undergo daily testing for seven days before they leave for Tokyo. This measure applies to delegations from India, Nepal, Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. It will take effect on July 1st.

In addition, five other countries have been placed on a second list by the Japanese authorities: Egypt, Vietnam, Malaysia, Britain and Bangladesh. Members of those delegations will have to undergo daily tests during the three days preceding their trip to Japan.

For the other nations, the rule remains the same: two tests within four days before departure, the second one within 72 hours before take-off.

Note: athletes from the 11 targeted countries will be allowed to train before flying to Japan for the Tokyo Games, but on condition that they do not come into contact with people who are not part of their team. For the representatives of the six countries most at risk, this condition must be respected for seven days. For the others, only the last three days. Quite a headache.