The Olympic train has departed

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The Olympic train has departed

The author is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

Last Sunday, the Tokyo Olympic athletes’ facility was open to the media. I arrived at the site early, but the line of domestic and foreign reporters was already long. No social distancing was in place.

Everyone had a crumpled piece of paper — a statement acknowledging no fever. But being just a scrap piece of paper, there is no way of knowing whether the information was true. A paper box for the statement on the registration desk was already frayed. Japan could have spared the paper and workers if they just used QR codes.

The Tokyo Olympics has already begun, insofar as foreign media presence made it real. Japanese society seems to have accepted that it is happening. Some say there’s nothing they can do about it. The poll question has quietly changed from “Do you support or oppose opening of the Olympics?” to “Do you support the Games if no audience is allowed?” The survey outcome has to be different.

The focus of the debate over the Olympics is subtly off the mark. The Covid-19 measures for the athletes are not clear. Though there will be 18,000 athletes staying in the Athletes Village, the only Covid-19 facility is the temporary clinic with two rooms. The Olympic Organizing Committee hasn’t been able to clarify the number of medical staff to be ready at the site. Restaurants and lodgings have no temperature check equipment and people’s movements cannot be traced. When someone tests positive, the patient’s memory is the only source to check whom he or she has come in contact with.

But the debate in Japan is focused on why alcoholic beverages are not allowed in the Athletes Village. Japanese people are not allowed to sell alcohol out of fear that the virus may spread at the village. It is not the drinking that spreads the virus. The problem is that the disease control that is so slack that people cannot even enjoy drinking.

Perception on foreign athletes is strange. The Ugandan athletes arrived at Japan last week, and two have tested positive. As the disease control measures were slack, eight athletes sitting around the patient during the flight were identified as close contacts three days after the test result. People are anxious that foreign athletes are spreading the virus, but the real problem is the substandard disease control system ahead of the Olympics while it cannot identify or isolate positive cases.

The Olympic train has already departed. The Japanese government wants to make plans as it runs. Takeshi Nakajima, a professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, said, “If the 1964 Tokyo Olympics symbolized Japan’s development, this Olympics will symbolize Japan’s decline.” It’s a painful point. It is dangerous to operate a train with doors open.
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