More than 20 members of the South African Olympic team – mainly players and support staff of the soccer team – and eight Team GB members have been placed in strict isolation as Tokyo2020 officials and Japanese health authorities try and stem an outbreak of Covid-19.
The preparation of the South African mens soccer team is now in disarray as officials greatly expand the initial isolation of three positive cases to include nearly all team members and staff.
The situation facing the team GB track and field team is also confusing after six athletes and two staff were deemed to be close contacts of a passenger on their flight from London to Tokyo last Friday. They were among a contingent of nearly 30 people who have been forced into “self-isolation’’ in their rooms until the authorities deem they have not contracted the virus.
Each case is treated differently but people can be held in their rooms for up to 14 days. Team GB said all of the athletes and staff had since tested negative.
“This is disappointing news for the athletes and staff, but we absolutely respect the protocols in place,” said Team GB chef de mission Mark England.
“We will offer them every support during this period and we are hopeful that they will be able resume training again soon.”
But British hammer thrower Taylor Campbell was critical of team officials for elevating the risk for competitors by mixing them with the public during the flight. He said instead of putting the team members together at the back of the flight they were mixed among the public.
He said “We asked at the desk to be moved next to other team members onto empty rows but weren’t allowed to change our seat. We have trained hard to get in this position to now risk it all on something out of our control.”
Mr Takaya was unable to say how long the athletes would be under strict conditions, which means being isolated in their rooms until further PCR testing every day.
He said that if the athletes returned a negative test within six hours of training or competing they would be allowed to take part as long as other protocols were in place such as dedicated transport.
On Sunday officials announced the first two athletes to have tested positive in the athletes village were South African mens soccer players Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi, while a team support member and video analyst Mario Masha was also positive, but detected outside of the village.
In a further blow, the South Africa Rugby Sevens coach Neil Powell has tested positive.
Originally the South Africa sevens team was put into isolation because a passenger on their flight last week from Doha to Japan had tested positive. The team has been staying in Kagoshima City trying to prepare for the Games, but their training has been severely impacted because of the Covid scare.
In a fresh round of tests before the team was released for training, it was announced late Sunday that Powell returned a positive test. Powell has been isolated from the team and the Japanese health authorities are continuing to monitor the players and other support staff while allowing limited training.
While it appears that Powell contracted the virus from the flight, the South Africans believe the cluster of cases in the soccer team were incubating in the last days before departing for the Games.
South African chief medical officer, Phatho Zondi, said every member of Team South Africa had tested negative in the two PCR tests within 96 hours of their flights to Tokyo.
“The timing of the positive results (of the soccer team members) 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,” Dr. Zondi said in a statement.
Officials said since the cluster had emerged the other members of the soccer team had been tested twice with negative test results.
In a statement the South African team said: “Team SA officials and management have followed all relevant Olympic Playbook rules, protocols, and procedures throughout the pre-Games and Games arrival routines.
“They have been tested on arrival, daily at the Olympic Village, and complied with all the mandatory measures implemented to ensure the safety of the Games participants and the people of Japan, including keeping physical distance and wearing masks at all times.”
All Olympic arrivals are Covid-tested upon arrival into Tokyo before they clear customs, and this process has picked up a handful of Covid cases including two from Uganda earlier this month and a Mozambique team member last week.