Current measures against infection are insufficient for safe Games

If the measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus are flawed, it will be absolutely impossible to hold the Olympics safely. Before the entry of foreign athletes and officials into Japan gets in full swing, the current measures must be reviewed.

A member of the Ugandan Olympic delegation, which arrived in Japan for a pre-Olympic training camp, tested positive for the coronavirus during quarantine inspection at Narita Airport. The handling of the case has exposed problems with the border control measures against the coronavirus.

The person who tested positive was immediately quarantined, but the remaining eight people were moved to their training camp in Izumisano, Osaka Prefecture, by chartered bus without a check to identify who had been in close contact with the infected person. After that, another member of the delegation was confirmed to be infected, and city officials and bus drivers who accompanied the delegation were identified as having been in close contact with the infected person.

The Delta variant, which was first identified in India and is believed to be highly contagious, was detected in the two persons who tested positive. This can be viewed as a case in which a coronavirus variant could be spread in Japan.

Airport quarantine requires all Olympic and Paralympic delegation members to undergo coronavirus tests. However, even if someone tests positive, the identification of people who have been in close contact with an infected person is left entirely to public health centers of the local governments that host athletes.

If people who were in close contact with the infected persons in the Ugandan delegation had been identified at the quarantine inspection, based on such information as their seating position on the plane, this situation could have been avoided. The government plans to identify people who were in close contact with infected persons at airports. It must set up a system for that purpose, including securing facilities to isolate people who have been in close contact.

About 70,000 athletes and officials, among other people, are expected to enter the country, including people coming for the Paralympics. As one coronavirus countermeasure, the government has come up with a “bubble system” to isolate the areas in which the athletes and others move. The image is surrounding these areas with a large bubble.

However, it is not easy to completely separate athletes and others from the outside after they enter Japan. Local government officials and others are needed because they have to meet them at airports and guide them to their training camp sites.

Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Norihisa Tamura has said, “City government officials outside the bubble should not be in close contact.” However, it is questionable if such a system is really feasible.

In Japan, infections with coronavirus variants have been spreading, and there are signs of infections increasing again in Tokyo. Many Japanese people are concerned about the possible spread of the virus as a result of holding the Olympics. If such poor handling of border control measures against the coronavirus continues, public distrust in the government will only grow.

Ensuring safety and security is a basic requirement for holding the Olympics. The government needs to be aware that it faces a critical moment as to whether it can achieve this.

The harm would be irreparable if a mass infection occurred at a venue because too much importance was placed on admitting spectators. The government should give top priority to preventing the spread of infections and consider implementing appropriate measures, including not allowing spectators into the venues.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 29, 2021.