Ailing businesses have been forced to temporarily close around Olympic venues. Olympic visitors ordered to install invasive apps and allow GPS tracking. Guards line hotels to prevent participants from coming into contact with ordinary Japanese people or visiting restaurants to taste sushi.
Japan’s massive security apparatus has raised complaints that the nation, during Games weeks, will look more like authoritarian North Korea or China than one of the most powerful and vibrant democracies of the world.
The worry for many here, however, is not too Big Brother is that all the heightened precautions will not be enough to prevent the roughly 85,000 athletes, officials, journalists and other workers coming to Japan from introducing variants. of rapidly spreading coronavirus to a largely unvaccinated population already struggling with increasing cases.
“Everything is based on the honor system, and it raises concerns that the media and other participants might go out of their hotels to eat in Ginza,” Takeshi Saiki, an opposition MP, said of this. which he called the laxity of Japan’s border controls. So far, the majority of Olympic athletes and other participants have been exempt from typical quarantine requirements.
There have been regular security outages as the enormity of trying to control so many visitors becomes clearer – and the opening ceremony looms. The Japanese press is full of information about people linked to the Olympics who tested positive for the coronavirus. Photos and social media posts show foreigners linked to the Games breaking mask rules and drinking in public, smoking at airports – even, if the biographies are correct, posting on dating apps.
“There are big holes in the bubbles,” said Ayaka Shiomura, another opposition lawmaker, of the so-called “bubbles” that are supposed to separate Olympic Games participants from the rest of the country.
The pandemic has tested democracies around the world as they attempt to balance the need to protect basic rights with the national imperative to control a disease that thrives when people gather in large numbers.
Few places, however, have faced higher stakes than Tokyo in July and August – or more scrutiny on a global scale. The government, well aware of repeated national inquiries that show strong opposition to the Games, argues its security and surveillance measures are crucial as it attempts to host an Olympics in a once-in-a-century pandemic.
But as the restrictions are tested by a growing number of visitors, officials have been accused of doing too much and not enough.
The government and the organizers of the Games “treat visitors as if they are potential criminals,” Chizuko Ueno, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Tokyo, said on YouTube.
There is also lingering resentment over the widespread feeling that Japan is faced with this balance because the International Olympic Committee must get the Games to go ahead, regardless of the state of the virus, to secure the billions of dollars in funding. media revenues essential to its survival.
“The Olympic Games are organized as an IOC enterprise. Not only the Japanese people, but others around the world, were put off by the Olympics after we all saw the true nature of the Olympics and the IOC through the pandemic, ”mountaineer Ken Noguchi told the online edition of the Nikkan Gendai newspaper.
Senior sports editors from major international media companies, meanwhile, have asked organizers to “reconsider some measures that go beyond what is necessary to ensure the safety of participants and residents,” saying they ” show disregard for the privacy and technological security of our colleagues. “
Japan has fared better during the pandemic than many countries, but the Olympians won’t arrive until a few months after a coronavirus spike caused some Japanese hospitals to collapse as intensive care filled with sick people. As the tide has moderated, cases are increasing enough for the declaration of a new state of emergency in Tokyo.
One of the most publicized safety concerns came last month when a member of the Ugandan team arriving in Japan tested positive for what turned out to be the most contagious delta variant. He was quarantined at the airport, but the rest of the nine-person team were allowed to travel more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) in a chartered bus to their pre-Olympic camp, where a second Ugandan tested positive, forcing the team and seven city officials and drivers who have been in close contact with them to self-isolate.
On Friday, a member of the Ugandan team disappeared, raising further questions about the monitoring of Olympic participants.
So what are the restrictions that visitors related to the Olympics face?
During the first 14 days in Japan, Olympic visitors outside the Athletes’ Village are prohibited from using public transportation and from going to bars, tourist spots and most restaurants. They cannot even go for a walk, or visit anywhere, in fact, this is not specifically mentioned in the activity plans submitted in advance. There are a few exceptions allowed by the organizers: specially designated convenience stores, take-out outlets and, in rare cases, certain restaurants that have private rooms.
Athletes, tested daily for the coronavirus, will be isolated in the Athletes’ Village and should stay there, or in similarly locked bubbles at venues or training venues. Those who break the rules could be sent home or receive fines and lose the right to participate in the Games.
Everyone associated with the Olympics will be invited to install two apps upon entering Japan. One is an immigration and health reporting app, and the other is a contact finder app that uses Bluetooth. They will also have to consent to the organizers using GPS to monitor their movements and contacts via their smartphones in case of infection or violation of the rules.
“We are not going to be monitoring behavior all the time,” said organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto. “The point is, however, that if there should be any problems with their activity, since the GPS function will be activated, we will be able to check their activities.”
Japan also plans to place human monitors at venues and hotels, although the number is not yet clear.
“We will control every entry and exit. We will have a system that will not allow anyone to go out freely, ”Olympic Minister Tamayo Marukawa said.
Other nations, both democratic and autocratic, have also attempted to control and monitor behavior and businesses during the pandemic.
In the United States, for example, NFL teams tracked their athletes to the team’s facilities. South Korean health officials have aggressively used GPS data from smartphones, credit card transaction records and surveillance videos to find and isolate potential virus carriers. Tracking apps are used to monitor thousands of quarantined individuals at home.
In China, mask warrants, lockdowns confining millions of people to their homes and nationwide case searches have met little to no opposition. North Korea has closed its borders even more tightly, skipped the Olympics, and canceled or severely curtailed access for foreign diplomats, aid workers and outside journalists.
While security restrictions in Japan are a problem for visitors, they could also hit locals hard.
Hiroshi Kato, a fencing instructor, said he feared losing even more business than he lost during the pandemic as he was ordered to leave the building where he works across the street from the main Olympic stadium from July 1 to September 19. for unspecified security reasons.
“I feel helpless,” he said in an interview. “To organize the Games safely, some restrictions are understandable… but (the organizers) have known this for a long time and perhaps could have helped us. “
Associated Press editors Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Kantaro Komiya in Tokyo contributed to this report.