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Japan toughens border controls as Olympic athlete tests positive

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TOKYO: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga pledged Monday to strengthen health controls at airports after a Ugandan Olympic team member tested positive for Covid-19 at the town hosting their training camp, triggering concerns that the upcoming Games will spread infections.

A Ugandan team member, reportedly a coach, tested positive on Saturday at Tokyo’s Narita airport and was quarantined there. But the rest of the nine-person team was allowed to travel more than 500 kilometres on a chartered bus to their pre-Olympics camp in the western prefecture of Osaka.

Three days later, a second Ugandan also tested positive for the virus, forcing seven town officials and drivers who had close contact with the team to self-isolate. The team members were quarantined at a local hotel.

Concerns escalated after it was announced that both Ugandans had the delta variant of the virus, which is believed to spread more easily.

In response to criticism of the case, Suga rushed to Tokyo’s Haneda international airport to inspect virus testing for arrivals and vowed to ensure appropriate border controls as growing numbers of Olympic and Paralympic participants enter Japan ahead of the July 23 opening of the Games.

“We are imposing strict rules so that the Olympic delegations don’t come in contact with the general public,” he said, adding that he had asked for the airport to step up vigilance as more delegations arrive.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato later on Monday said Japan plans to step up quarantine requirements for Olympic athletes and other participants from areas where the delta strain has been detected by requiring daily virus tests for seven days prior to departure to Japan extended from the current four days and up to 14 days after entry and training in isolation in the first three days.

“The Uganda case illustrated that Japan’s border health controls can be easily breached,” Tokyo Medical Association Chairman Haruo Ozaki said Sunday on NHK public television. “Apparently the border controls are not adequate, even though there has been plenty of time to work on them,” he said.

Government officials initially defended the airport health controls as having properly detected and isolated the positive case, and said that contact tracing and isolation of those suspected of having had close contact was not their job but that of local health officials.

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2021

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