Olympics-Risk of COVID spread is 'zero', IOC chief says, amid rising cases

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Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), bump elbows at the start of their talks at Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building in Tokyo
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TOKYO (Reuters) -International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said on Thursday there was "zero" risk of Games participants infecting Japanese residents with COVID-19, as cases hit a six-month high in the host city.

Bach said Olympics athletes and delegations had undergone more than 8,000 coronavirus tests, resulting in three positive results. "Risk for the other residents of Olympic village and risk for the Japanese people is zero," he added.

The three cases have been placed in isolation and their close contacts are also in quarantine, Bach said at the beginning of talks with Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto.

Just over a week before the July 23 opening ceremony, Tokyo reported 1,308 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, its highest daily tally since late January.

Postponed last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Summer Olympics have little public support in Japan amid widespread fears about a further spread of the coronavirus.

Critics on Thursday submitted a petition against the Games that has garnered more than 450,000 signatures this month, Japanese media reported.

Organisers have imposed Olympics "bubbles" to prevent further transmissions of COVID-19, but medical experts are worried they might not be sufficiently tight.

COVID-19 CASES EMERGE

A number of infections have emerged among visiting athletes and people involved with the Games.

An Olympic athlete under a 14-day quarantine period has tested positive in Tokyo, the organising committees' website reported on Thursday, without disclosing any details about the athlete.

Eight members of the Kenyan women's rugby team had been classified as close contacts of a passenger on their flight to Tokyo who had tested positive for coronavirus, their squad said.

The athletes had been isolated as a precaution, but had all tested negative on arrival and were expected to link up with the rest of the players at their residential training camp in Kurume on Friday, the team added.

Tokyo entered its fourth state of emergency earlier this week amid a rebound in COVID-19 cases that pushed Games organisers to ban spectators from nearly all venues.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters Japan would take thorough steps to strengthen border controls against the coronavirus.

Given the state of emergency in the host city, the Tokyo 2020 organising committee said it would bar public access to the capital's waterfront area and asked the public to refrain from visiting the Olympic flame platform.

The waterfront area, dubbed Tokyo Waterfront City, was supposed to feature "cool spots, rest areas and dining spaces" and be open to spectators and non-ticket holders, according to organisers.

Some of the sponsor booths may be operated on a restricted-access basis during the Games, a committee spokesperson told reporters.

A decision of whether to allow public access to the area during the Paralympic Games will be taken after the Olympics have ended, the spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Eimi Yamamitsu, Ju-min Park Editing by Michael Perry, Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

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