Olympics chief Thomas Bach pledged Wednesday “not to bring any risk” to Japan with the Games, seeking to reassure a sceptical public as virus cases surge just over a week before Tokyo 2020 begins.
Fans have been banned from Olympic events in the capital, which is under emergency virus restrictions to curb rising infection numbers that on Wednesday hit highs not seen since January.
As more athletes arrive in the country and move into the Olympic Village, International Olympic Committee chief Bach promised a safe summer Games.
“We are making all our efforts and the Japanese people have all our commitment to contribute in the best way to fight this virus and not to bring any risk to the Japanese people,” Bach told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.
He said “85 percent of all the residents in the Olympic Village and almost 100 percent of the IOC members and staff coming here to Tokyo arrive vaccinated.
“This is why I’d like to humbly ask the Japanese people to warmly welcome the athletes from all around the world who have overcome, like the Japanese people, so many challenges.”
He thanked Japan for hosting the Games despite the coronavirus, calling Tokyo 2020 “historic” and praising the public’s efforts to overcome both the pandemic and the country’s deadly 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
While Japan has seen a less severe COVID-19 outbreak than many other countries, with around 15,000 deaths overall, only around 20 percent of the population are fully vaccinated and Tokyo’s emergency measures will be in place throughout the Games.
In opinion polls, the Japanese public have consistently expressed apprehension about Tokyo 2020, which was postponed by a year due to the pandemic and will finally open on 23 July.
Organisers announced the decision to ban spectators from almost all Olympic events last week, following repeated warnings from experts about rising virus cases and the risk of crowds gathering.
The US softball team moved into the Olympic Village on Wednesday, public broadcaster NHK reported, the day after the compound opened without any of the welcome ceremonies or media opportunities often seen at the Games.
Athletes will face strict virus rules while in Japan, and are banned from eating at local restaurants, taking public transport or interacting with the public.
Olympic officials on Wednesday stressed that just a tiny percentage of the people coming into Japan for the event had tested positive for the virus.
“The IOC was informed today by the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee about the 8,000+ people involved in the Games who travelled to Japan between 1 and 13 July,” the IOC said in a statement.
“Only three tested positive for COVID-19 after arrival and were immediately isolated, while the close contacts have been subject to the relevant quarantine measures.”
Separately, the South African rugby sevens team had to put a training camp in southern Kagoshima on hold upon arriving in Japan, after someone travelling on the same plane as them tested positive.
All 21 squad members tested negative, but 18 of them were deemed to be close contacts and moved to a facility in Tokyo.