Paralympic officials under increasing scrutiny amid new surge in Covid cases
International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons insists the Games can be held safely, despite Covid-19 cases continuing to increase in Tokyo.
With the Paralympics set to officially get under way with the opening ceremony today, Japan continues to struggle with a new surge in cases, experiencing its biggest wave of the pandemic since it began last year, putting hospitals under increasing pressure.
Tokyo reported 4,392 new infections yesterday, as the nation topped 20,000 active cases for the sixth day in succession. The situation has led Japanese medical professionals to call for the Games — pushed back a year already owing to the pandemic — to be cancelled.
Perhaps even more alarming is that Covid-19 cases continue to be identified with connection to the Games, including inside the Paralympic Village itself.
Tokyo 2020 reported a total of 13 new cases yesterday associated with the Games, including seven contractors. The figure also includes one Tokyo 2020 employee and four Games-concerned personnel, which covers those affiliated with the International Olympic Committee, International Paralympic Committee, National Olympic Committees, National Paralympic Committees and international federations.
Three of the Games-concerned personnel cases were confirmed inside the Paralympic Village and were all under the 14-day quarantine period.
The overall number of cases associated with the Games stands at 144 since August 12. Of those, five were found inside the Paralympic Village, while two unnamed athletes also tested positive, in Chiba, in the eastern outskirts of Tokyo.
About 4,400 athletes, including Jessica Lewis, Bermuda’s wheelchair sprinter, are set to compete at the Paralympics, which will run until September 5.
Despite the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases linked to the Games, Parsons underlined his commitment to staging the Paralympics, vowing to protect the participating athletes as well as the Japanese population.
"We are not going to be complacent when it comes to protecting the Paralympic and Japanese population,” said Parsons at an IPC governing board meeting in Tokyo.
"We do believe that we can deliver and organise these Games in a safe manner.
"That is what we have been preparing for in the last 18 months since the postponement and this is what we are going to do here.
"Together with the governments and Tokyo Organising Committee we will make every effort to make sure these Games can be run in a safe way for all involved, but above all to the Japanese society.
"We would not be here if we did not think we could deliver these Games in a safe way.
"If we understood that the Games would be a threat to the Japanese population, we would not be holding them.
"With the experience of the Olympic Games we are convinced that we can do it for the athletes, the 1.2 billion people with disabilities but also can do it for the Japanese society."
In response to the new increase in cases in the capital city, Tokyo 2020 president Seiko Hashimoto has confirmed regulations and restrictions will be "even more stringent" than they were during the Olympics with a view to protecting athletes at the Paralympics.
Among the restrictions, people who have travelled to Japan for the Games will have to undergo further Covid-19 testing and be made to observe the same rules imposed during their two-week quarantine period.
Under the original restrictions foreign attendees were not allowed to move around the capital unless they are in transport laid on by organisers for the first 14 days and must stay in accommodation designated for accredited members.
During the Olympic Games, the rules were lifted after visitors had been in the country for 14 days, but Hashimoto confirmed that would not be the case during the Paralympics.
“Attendees from overseas will be asked to stick to the same rules even after their initial 14 days have passed," she said. "The reason why the Paralympics were postponed was because of Covid-19, so what we need is stringent antivirus measures.
"We need to protect the athletes and all attendees from Covid; that is the top priority towards a successful Paralympic Games.
"We have to make sure that the athletes can compete with confidence towards their own goals.
"They have overcome many difficulties, they have gone through many problems over the past year and overcome all these to come to Tokyo.
"We want the athletes to reach their full potential and to take the next step towards their next phase of their life, that is going to define the success of the Paralympic Games.
"Of course, safety is our top priority with the athletes participating in the Games, and for the residents in Tokyo and Japan we will ensure that the Games are safe and secure with thorough Covid-19 measures in place.
"There are many people with underlying conditions that are taking part in the Paralympic Games, so we need measures that are even more stringent than we had in the Olympics.“