— Published 23 August 2021

Japan turns up the heat for the Paralympics


The figures are worrying. Three days before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games (August 24th to September 5th), the Japanese organisers recorded 30 COVID-19 cases among people directly linked to the event on Sunday, August 22nd. A record number.

The day before, 15 cases were declared. On Wednesday, August 18th, it had reached its highest level, with 18 people infected. It’s easy to calculate: the number of cases in the Paralympic community has doubled in 24 hours. And it has never been this high, with the Paralympic Games scheduled to start on Tuesday, August 24th.

The only good news is that all 30 new cases have been identified outside the athletes’ village. But two competitors remain on the list. Their identities have not been disclosed, but they tested positive in Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo, where they were on a final training course before coming to the village. Both athletes were quarantined for 14 days. Their Games are over before they have even begun.

To date, four athletes have already tested positive for COVID-19. All four cases have been discovered in the last three days.

Other people infected in the last 24 hours include two media representatives, an employee of the organising committee and a volunteer.

A total of 131 COVID-19 cases have been reported since the start of the Paralympic period, including 10 media members.

The figures are still very similar to those recorded during the Olympic Games. The important difference is that they concern a much smaller event. The Tokyo Paralympic Games will bring together 4,400 athletes. There were 10,500 at the Olympic Games. In proportion, the number of cases is therefore much higher. Worrying.

As a result, the organisers have already taken the decision to strengthen the sanitary measures. The organising committee’s general director, Toshiro Muto, explained on Sunday, August 22nd, that all accredited persons would be subject to “new and necessary precautionary measures”. Basic measures – wearing masks, social distancing, limiting movement and daily testing – remain in force. But they are now considered insufficient.

A daily test for the Paralympic Village staff is included among the new rules announced, instead of once every four days as stipulated in the latest version of the “playbook” published by the organisers.

Another new measure: the intensification of travel restrictions. Certain accredited persons, including the media, will no longer be allowed to use public transport or move freely in the capital once the 14-day period in Japan is over. They will have to remain in the Paralympic bubble from the first to the last day of their stay in Tokyo.

Finally, the organisers explained that participants would also have to limit their visits “to the places listed in their work programme”. They will also have to eat “in the facilities located inside the Paralympic venues or in the hotels where they are staying, eating alone and without talking”.

Nothing very new in principle. The same instructions were issued for the Olympic Games. But they only covered the first 14 days in Japan. On the fifteenth day, Olympic accredited persons, including the media, saw the light change from red to green. They were given a pass to use the metro. Their horizon became less narrow.

For the Paralympic Games, the Japanese are turning up the heat. The bubble must remain watertight. From the first to the last day.