The rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games are kicking off on July 23. However, a rash of COVID-19 cases is sparking concerns about the safety of holding the competition during the still very ongoing pandemic. On July 19, just days after the first breakout case was reported from within the Olympic Village, the number of positive COVID cases had risen to 61—with Olympians from more than 200 countries due to arrive in the coming days.
Kara Eaker, an 18-year-old gymnast serving as an alternate on the U.S. team, is among them. Eaker’s father confirmed that Kara had tested positive to KMBC 9 News and added that she is fully vaccinated and currently not experiencing any symptoms.
“The total number of positive cases linked with accredited personnel is 61,” said Masa Takaya, spokesperson of Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee. “But it’s important to look inside the numbers: Among the total, 33 are positive cases from residents of Japan, 28 are from the Olympic Committees arriving from overseas.”
“Regarding this 28, we need to look at the 22,000 people arriving in Japan. Looking into the positive case rate, the number is nearly 0.1%,” she added.
Dr. Brian McCloskey, Chair of Independent Expert Panel for the International Olympic Committee, likewise said in a news conference that the number of COVID-19 cases linked to the events so far is on par with expectations.
“What we’re seeing is what we expected to see,” said McCloskey. “Essentially, if I thought all the tests that we did were going to be negative, then I wouldn’t bother doing the tests in the first place. We do the pretest because they are a way of filtering out people who might be developing an infection.”
“The numbers we’re seeing are actually extremely low, and probably lower than we expected to see if anything,” McCloskey continued, adding that, yes, he believes the Olympic Village is safe.
Not everyone is convinced about the safety of forging on with the Olympic Games, however. Japan experienced a deadly second wave of infections in the spring of 2021, with nearly 6,000 daily cases reported through April and May. And although those cases finally began falling in June, there has been a rise in cases in recent weeks.
As a result, Toyota, a top corporate sponsor of the Olympics, announced Monday that it’s pulling all commercials from the 2020 Summer Games. In addition, the company added that Toyota Motor Corp CEO Akio Toyoda and other top executives would not attend the opening ceremony.
In an “unprecedented move,” Olympic organizers had announced on July 8 that the Tokyo venues would not have spectators amid spiking cases and the city’s state of emergency.
“A very heavy judgment was made,” said Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto in a press statement. “We are now faced with the [resurgence], so we have no other choice but to hold the Games in a limited way. We are very sorry we are able to deliver only a limited version of the Games, but we want to have thorough operation to deliver safe and secure Games.”
In addition to banning spectators, organizers are implementing measures to protect both Olympians and staffers from COVID.
The Olympic Village, which will house about 11,000 Olympians in 21 residential buildings, is prepped with testing and health centers, and all athletes will be tested for COVID-19 and contact-traced daily. Athletes who test positive will be taken to an isolation facility outside the Olympic Village and barred from competing.
Additionally, signage is posted throughout the Olympic Village to remind residents to wear face masks and to keep at least one meter (about 3.2 feet) of distance away from each other.