TOKYO (Reuters) – Two members of the visiting Olympic delegation have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, media reports said on Friday, stressing the risks of hosting the Tokyo Olympics even after most spectators were barred from attending the event.
Organizers succumbed to political pressure on Thursday amid mounting infections and banned nearly all Games fans just two weeks before the opening and after insisting the Olympics could be held with spectators.
The decision, made after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a fourth state of emergency in the capital on Thursday, virtually ends the Games’ last hope in a public spectacle of pomp and circumstance.
Spectators from other countries have been banned from attending the games for months.
And the result of a positive test for an athlete from Lithuania came in Hiratsuka, west of Tokyo, and the same thing happened to a member of the Israeli delegation upon his arrival at Haneda Airport in the capital, according to local media, without going into further details.
They are not the first. A Ugandan athlete and coach tested positive last month. An athlete from Serbia tested positive this month.
Japanese Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said he felt sorry for the athletes, but the decision to keep fans away was correct.
“Please stay home during these Olympics, and share the excitement with your families, at home,” he said at a news conference.
The ticket official cried as he apologized to the people whose tickets had been cancelled.
“We did everything we could to meet the expectations of those who bought tickets, and we were deeply pained,” Hidenori Suzuki of the organizing committee’s marketing department told a news conference.
The Games, which were postponed from last year, are scheduled to take place between July 23 and August 8, and polls have consistently shown Japanese people are concerned about their organization during the pandemic.
In a recent press poll, 35% were in favor of no spectators, 26% wanted some type of cap, and 34% would like games to be canceled or postponed.
The move is also likely to stifle the best-case scenario for Suga, who may call an early general election soon after the Games are successfully held to renew his weak political support.
“This scenario is no longer feasible,” said independent political analyst Atsu Ito. Elections for the powerful lower house of parliament should be held later this year, and Suga will also run a second election to lead the ruling party.
Japan was once seen as an opportunity to show its recovery from a prolonged stagnation and devastating earthquake a decade ago, but it is now being subjected to massive budget overruns.
Medical experts have said for weeks that an absence of spectators would be the least risky option amid widespread public fears that an influx of tens of thousands of athletes and officials would lead to a new wave of injuries.
(Reporting by Jo Min Park and Linda Sieg; Additional reporting by Rocky Swift, Chris Gallagher, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Manasi Pathak; Additional reporting by David Dolan)