Olympics: First athletes test positive for Covid-19 in Games Village

The Olympic Village is a complex of apartments and dining areas that will house 6,700 athletes and officials.
The Olympic Village is a complex of apartments and dining areas that will house 6,700 athletes and officials.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (AFP, REUTERS) - Two athletes have become the first to test positive for the coronavirus in the Tokyo Olympic Village, officials said on Sunday (July 18), just days before the pandemic-delayed Games open.

The cases will heighten concerns over the Olympics, which are facing opposition in Japan over fears that they will bring new cases to a country already battling a surge in infections.

A daily tally of new cases revealed two athletes tested positive in the Village and one elsewhere. They come a day after an unidentified person, who was not a competitor, became the first case in the Village.

South Africa’s sevens rugby coach Neil Powell has tested positive for Covid-19, officials said, a fourth confirmed infection for the country.

He tested positive on arrival in Japan and is in isolation in Kagoshima, where the sevens squad are at a pre-Games training camp.

It follows the confirmation earlier on Sunday that two players and a team official from South Africa’s football team had also tested positive.

Defender Thabiso Monyane and winger Kamohelo Mahlatsi, as well as video analyst Mario Masha, are also in isolation as the team prepare to face hosts Japan in their opener on Thursday (July 22).

“We have three positive cases of Covid-19 in the camp here, two players and an official,” football team manager Mxolisi Sibam said in a media statement from the South African Football Association.

“There is daily screening....Masha and Monyane reported high temperatures and positive saliva tests, and were then taken to do the nasal test...and they unfortunately tested positive for Covid-19. Mahlatsi is the latest player to go through the same process.”

He said that as a result, the team has been quarantined until cleared to train, waiting for results from tests earlier on Sunday.

“This unfortunate situation has made us miss our first intensive training session last night.”

Mexico and France are also in South Africa’s first-round group.

Team South Africa’s chief medical officer Phatho Zondi said they were surprised at the infections, but he believes all protocols have been followed for the country’s athletes.

“Every member of Team South Africa required full medical clearance as an eligibility criteria,” he said in a statement.

“In addition, they were encouraged to isolate for two weeks pre-departure, monitor health daily, report any symptoms, and produce two negative nasopharyngeal PCR tests taken within 96 hours of departure, as per Tokyo 2020 requirements.

“The timing of the positive results suggests that the PCR test in these individuals was done during the incubation period of the infection, which is how they could be negative in South Africa and then positive in Japan.

“They are now in isolation where they will continue to be monitored and will not be allowed to train or have any physical contact with the rest of the squad(s).”

The sevens rugby competition, where South Africa will be among the favourites, begins on July 26.

The Olympic Village, also known as the Athletes' Village, is a complex of apartments and dining areas that will house 6,700 athletes and officials at its peak when the 2020 Games, delayed last year over the pandemic, finally get under way on Friday.

The Tokyo Olympics, which will be held largely behind closed doors to prevent infections, are unpopular in Japan, where opinion polls have consistently demonstrated a lack of support.

On Saturday, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach appealed for Japanese fans to get behind the Games, saying he was "very well aware of the scepticism" surrounding the event.