Olympic team hotels battle virus problems

·2-min read

Coronavirus outbreaks involving Olympic teams in Japan have turned small-town hotels into facilities on the frontline of the pandemic battle, charged with implementing complex health measures to protect elite athletes and a fearful public.

Infections have hit at least seven teams arriving in Japan barely a week out from the July 23 opening ceremony and after host city Tokyo reported its highest daily tally of new COVID-19 cases since late January.

Health experts and hotel staff say the outbreaks underscore the risks of holding the world's largest sports event during the middle of a global pandemic in a largely unvaccinated country.

In one example, 49 members of Brazil's judo team are being kept in isolation after eight COVID-19 cases were discovered among the staff at a hotel where they are staying in Hamamatsu, southwest of Tokyo.

None of the judokas have tested positive but frustration over their isolation is mounting as health officials work to contain the outbreak.

"People from the city's public health centre are tracking down close contacts here," said a staff member at the Hamanako hotel. "There are dozens of regular guests as well but we're getting cancellations now."

The staff member said athletes are using designated lifts and those who work with them are prioritised for COVID-19 testing.

Meals are held in the dining area in separate spaces and the athletes are staying on separate floors.

City official Yoshinobu Sawada said teams were required to sign formal agreements to follow coronavirus protocols on eating, movement and transportation restrictions. The infected hotel staff have been moved to quarantine centres.

Other outbreaks include members of Olympic delegations from Uganda, Serbia, Israel and several other nations either testing positive or isolating in their hotels after being designated as close contacts.

Games authorities tell hotels to report people with a high temperature during Olympic team check-ins and say organisers and public health centres will handle outbreaks or suspected cases, according to documents the organisers sent to hotels.

Hotels need to provide room service or food delivery to athletes in isolation, and run different hours or separate spaces for meals between Olympic guests and regular guests.

Tokyo 2020 playbooks for athletes and sports federations call for attendees to physically distance themselves from others, to wear masks, and to get tested daily.

Those playbooks are working and being enforced, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has said, and there was "zero" risk of Games participants infecting residents.

Tokyo entered its fourth state of emergency earlier this week amid a rebound in cases that pushed Games organisers to ban spectators from nearly all venues.

More than 1300 new cases were reported on Thursday, the most in six months.

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