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TOKYO (Reuters) -A Nigerian Olympic delegate became the first visitor to the Tokyo Games admitted to hospital with COVID-19, broadcaster TV Asahi said on Friday, as Japan battles to stem rising local infections a week before the showpiece event starts.
The individual, a non-athlete in their 60s, tested positive on Thursday evening at the airport with mild symptoms but was hospitalised because of age and pre-existing conditions, the broadcaster said, without giving details.
Organisers have promised that the Games, starting on July 23 after being postponed from last year because of the pandemic, will be “safe and secure”.
The coronavirus has however infected increasing numbers of athletes and others involved with the Games, and authorities were on Friday trying to track down a Ugandan weightlifter who went missing from his training camp.
Tokyo is under a state of emergency for the duration of the event, and organisers have imposed strict testing and limits on delegates’ activities to try to soothe the concern of the Japanese public, many of whom wanted the Games cancelled or postponed again.
But most curbs to limit its spread in the host city – where infections hit a six-month high on Tudsday – are voluntary and many people say they have grown weary of them.
Among the latest batch of high-profile competitors to pull of out due to COVID-19 was tennis player Alex de Minaur, ranked 15th in the world, who the Australian Olympic Committee said had tested positive prior to his departure for the Games.
USA Basketball said Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal would also miss the Games after entering coronavirus protocols at a training camp in Las Vegas.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Thursday there was “zero” risk of Games participants infecting Japanese with COVID-19.
However, two-time Japanese Olympic medallist Koji Murofushi, now chief of a sports promotion body Japan Sports Agency, told Reuters on Friday that organisers needed flexibility and swift decision-making in reacting to the spread.
“It’s possible that even after the Olympics start, there will be situations where we’ll need to add measures … and if that’s the case, we have to be flexible enough to act swiftly,” said the 46-year-old, a gold and bronze medalist in the hammer throw. [L4N2OS14H]
Authorities Izumisano in western Japan said Ugandan athlete Julius Ssekitoleko, 20, had gone missing.
Uganda’s Olympics Committee said he was a weightlifter attending a training camp who had not qualified to participate in the Games and was therefore due to fly home. There was no suggestion that he was infected with COVID-19.
Most venues are to have no spectators, with officials urging the public to stay home and watch on television, depriving Japan of its hopes of pomp and spectacle at the Games.
Bach had suggested to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga that if the virus situation improved spectators could be let into stadiums, media said.
Japan’s top medical adviser, Shigeru Omi, told reporters that it was unlikely that the number of daily coronavirus infection cases would fall in a short span of time to levels that justify holding the Games with spectators.
Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike told reporters that while many hoped children at least could see the Games in person, it would depend on the trend in infections.
On Friday Bach visited Hiroshima, the city where the first wartime atomic bomb was dropped, to deliver what organisers have called a message of peace on the first day of an “Olympic Truce”, an ancient tradition to cease hostilities during the Games.
Bach laid a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park cenotaph and called the Games a “beacon of hope” for a peaceful future.
But the visit has proved controversial, with some critics charging the IOC with using it as a publicity stunt and others worried about contagion.
Although Japan has escaped the explosive outbreaks of other nations, it has more than 820,000 cases and about 15,000 deaths. Host city Tokyo had 1,308 new cases on Thursday and another 1,271 on Friday.
The city’s monitoring committee has warned that if the pace of contagion picked up as people move around and new infectious variants spread, the seven-day moving average could nearly double to 2,406 in four weeks. That would approach the highest level yet seen in the pandemic.
Japan’s fitful vaccination campaign has also sparked frustration among the local authorities handling most of it, with just 31% of people having had at least one dose.
(Additional reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Rocky Swift, Pak Yiu, Kohei Miyazaki and Akiko Okamoto, Kiyoshi Takenaka, Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Peter Graff, John Stonestreet)