how Tokyo is preparing despite the Covid-19

how Tokyo is preparing despite the Covid-19

As Japan suffers a third wave of coronavirus, the organization of the Tokyo Olympics must improvise. What is not in the local culture.

© Kim K Yung-Hoon / Reuters
As Japan suffers a third wave of coronavirus, the organization of the Tokyo Olympics must improvise. What is not in the local culture.

Three thousand contaminations of Covid-19 per day: a figure that Europe would love to display but which worries Japan, seven months away from hosting the biggest sporting event in the world. For the first time, and while the Prime Minister, Yoshihide Suga, had always opposed it, the Go to Japan domestic tourism program, designed to compensate for the absence of foreign visitors (down 99%), was reduced in order to limit contact. An effort that the health authorities would like to further increase.

At the end of the year, Tokyoites have their nose in masks more than Olympic Games to come up. The President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, was also moved by the current low interest in the competition during his recent visit.

Four scenarios on the table

In early fall, the Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting think tank released the results of a survey where only 12.6% of respondents wanted the competition to take place as planned against 20% in favor of cancellation, undoubtedly scalded by the estimate of the cost of a postponement to at least 2.1 billion euros. The consequence of the Japanese “whatever the cost”.

In this context, any positive announcement about the Games is at best inaudible, at worst misplaced. Still, the good news is starting to arrive. Thus, the Organizing Committee for the Tokyo Games (Tocog) believes in it more than ever. And this, vaccine or not. “After the announcement of the postponement, we plunged into the unknown, confides one of the committee members. Eight months of sprinting later, we postponed the possibility of a cancellation. We will deliver the Games.” In a country keen on precision and little focused on improvisation, the year 2020 has forced to force its nature. Make way for resourcefulness.

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In conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO), the IOC and the Tokyo government, the organizers have thus established four possible scenarios: from level one, where the virus is perfectly under control, to four, where the pandemic remains very active. As it stands, the cursor indicates step two, that of a controlled situation where a plateau is observed, a few clusters and which allows the entry of athletes and the public.

Tools, postilions and home run

To adapt to each possibility, Hide Nakamura, the Games delivery manager, presented on November 11 a “toolbox” still under construction and which will integrate new protocols in terms of transport, distancing, frequency of cleaning, testing… So many levers that will adapt according to the epidemic scenario. A Covid ‑ 19 test on departure from the country of origin and on arrival in Japan is, for example, planned for the moment. But in the event of health improvement, it could become optional. Director of Media Operations, Italian Lucia Montanarella sums up the new Olympic mindset: “You can’t stop the wave, but you can learn to ride it.”

Still in the process of breaking in, these tools are already being tested when competitions have resumed on the archipelago. On November 25, in Fukuoka, in the west of the country, the SoftBank Hawks baseball team won the league title, surrounded by 17,000 fans. A victory celebrated in front of a reduced gauge and with behaviors of a new kind.

You can’t stop the wave, but you can learn to ride it

Upon entering the stadium, each supporter complied with a temperature test and the possibility of tracing by indicating their contacts and seat number. Behind their Hawks masks, chanting and shouting were discouraged; the postilion, this new enemy. It is also forbidden to rush for balls in the event of a home run. Drastic measures which will weaken with the control of the virus. It will take it to fill the 68,000 seats of the new Olympic stadium in Tokyo.

Sprained from its health protectionism, Japan has reopened its doors to foreigners, at least to those who agree to spend fourteen days in isolation when they arrive in the archipelago. Incompatible with the preparation of athletes and delegations: the Japanese institutions have therefore lifted this confinement for Olympic entrants. In early November, a first international gymnastics competition saw Russians, Chinese and Americans face off against Japanese at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Tokyo.

The conditions for public entry will be specified in January (such as the “toolbox”) for a decision expected only in the spring. The challenge: to allow movement as freely as possible, while it is still forbidden to take public transport during the fortnight and visitors are often perceived as viruses on their feet. At Tocog, we maintain that the Olympics will be in public. On March 25, the Olympic torch will begin its journey among the 47 prefectures of the country.


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