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international

Ugandan Olympian tests positive for virus upon arrival in Japan, the first detection as athletes head to Tokyo


The 2020 Tokyo Games hit another snag after a vaccinated member of Ugandas team tested positive for the coronavirus upon arrival in Japan on Saturday.

It marked the first detection of the coronavirus among incoming athletes five weeks ahead of the competition at a time when cases are surging in many countries, including Japan.

Uganda's team had all been vaccinated with AstraZeneca shots and tested negative for the virus before departure, Japanese media reported, according to the Associated Press. Japan requires a two-week quarantine for international travelers, though it is waiving the rule for many Olympic athletes and support staffers.

Upon arrival Saturday night at Tokyo's Narita International Airport, one member of Uganda's team tested positive. That person was denied entry into Japan and sent to a government-run facility. The team's remaining eight members continued as planned Sunday to the host town of Osaka.

The International Olympic Committee, and the Japanese government and organizers, have insisted that the Games can be held safely with the health protocols in place. But critics say it's too risky to bring thousands of participants from all over the world together while new waves of infections hit many countries with low vaccination rates.

Under Japan's rules, Olympians are not required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus but will need to remain in designated social bubbles and test daily.

Public health experts are particularly concerned about highly contagious variants of the virus, such as the delta variant first detected in India, that appear to be driving many of the recent surges.

While no vaccine is 100 percent effective for everyone, cases of fully vaccinated people contracting the coronavirus have raised alarm. There are particular concerns that the Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac versions offer less protection than other vaccines available.

Japan has fully vaccinated less than 6 percent of its 7.1 million residents, the slowest rate among developed countries, according to the AP. At the same time, cases are rising in many cities, including Osaka and the capital, Tokyo.

On Sunday, Japan lifted its pandemic-related state of emergency in most areas, despite concerns that the move could spark another surge. Japan has not imposed lockdowns, but it has used the state of emergency to issue limits on gatherings and order restaurants and shops to close early, among other restrictions.

Uganda is facing an alarming rise in coronavirus cases, leading to surges in hospitalizations and shortages of oxygen for treatment. Just 2 percent of the country has been vaccinated. This month, Uganda hit records for daily infections, which are considered severe undercounts because of limited resources.

"We have no way to know how far the virus has spread in Uganda because of the low testing capacity in the country," Mercy Corps, a Seattle-based humanitarian NGO, said in a statement. "The health systems are overwhelmed, and sooner or later, there will be no space or adequate health care staff to admit severely ill patients who need emergency and critical care services. It's a ticking time bomb."

Published : June 21, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Miriam Berger