Two athletes living in the Olympic Village have become the first to test positive for COVID-19 just days before the Tokyo Games are set to begin on Friday.
Olympic organisers confirmed the positive tests on Sunday, saying the two athletes were from the same country but were not Japanese, without revealing their names or other details.
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The positive tests have further stoked concerns over the virus infiltrating the tightly controlled event, in particular, the Olympic Village, meant to be a bubble for about 11,000 athletes who have travelled to Japan for the games, which were postponed from 2020 amid the pandemic.
Organisers on Sunday reported 10 new cases connected to the Olympics, including a third athlete who was not staying in the village, down from 15 new cases a day earlier.
South Africa also reported three positive cases in its football squad – two players and an analyst. It was not immediately clear if those cases were identified as part of the same testing programme.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the first International Olympic Committee member also tested positive for COVID-19 while entering a Tokyo airport.
The committee identified the member as Ryu Seung-min of South Korea, who won an Olympic gold medal in table tennis in the 2004 Olympics. He was reportedly being held in isolation and was asymptomatic.
‘A bad sign’
Organisers say since July 1, 55 people linked to the Olympics have reported positive tests. However, the accounting does not include athletes or others who may have arrived for training camps but are not yet under the “jurisdiction” of the organising committee.
With the majority of the Japanese public already against hosting the games amid the pandemic, the most recent infections are likely to further unnerve citizens, said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan.
“This is a bad sign as thousands of athletes are arriving this week, and there’ll be more than 50,000 Olympic related guests also arriving, just as the Delta variant is swirling around the globe and vaccination here are just 20 percent [of the population],” he told Al Jazeera.
“A lot of things can’t be known … and the big question mark over these Olympics is that about 80 percent of the Japanese people did not think it was a good idea to go forward,” he said.
Tokyo and three neighbouring prefectures will be under a state of emergency when the games open on Friday. Fans, both from Japan and abroad, are barred from all Olympic events in those areas.
The emergency order lasts until August 22. The games close on August 8.
Tokyo recorded 1,410 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the highest in six months. It was the 28th straight day that cases were higher than seven previous days.