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Jumping through hoops: the Tokyo Games’ first challenge is getting there

Tokyo: The first thing we noticed was how big the suitcases were. Piled high, three abreast – there are no holidaymakers travelling light at international airports any more. Just people desperate to get home, those packing for a stint in quarantine hotels, and now, those heading to the Olympic Games.

The world recorded another 535,000 COVID-19 cases on Monday. Inside the Olympic bubble, the task of making sure none of those cases is imported is a fiendish logistical challenge.

Customs at Tokyo’s Narita Airport

Customs at Tokyo’s Narita Airport Credit:Getty

For the government of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, the stakes are high. Japan is grappling with 3000 cases a day just as an extra 20,000 people fly into Narita airport. It cannot afford to have any Olympic infections seep into the community or it risks turning the already unpopular games into a superspreader event.

To protect both its health and its international reputation, the nation’s contact tracing and travel precautions have to withstand the pressure of thousands of travellers coming from every corner of the world.

Here is how The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald made it to Tokyo.

The journey started two weeks before getting on a plane. Daily temperature checks were logged into Excel spreadsheets to show authorities that every traveller is monitoring their health before flying out.

Those in the media pack also mapped out each step they planned to take over their first 14 days in Japan. Each possible location was logged in another spreadsheet and submitted to Japanese authorities for approval. The activity plan is essentially a mixture of Olympic venues and the hotel. No contact with the Japanese public is allowed.

Japan’s over-reliance on cumbersome spreadsheets generated a flood of data for contact tracers and health bureaucrats – and until every detail was approved, two critical and compulsory apps did not function: the Infection Control Support System and the Online Check-in and Health report App, known as OCHA for short.

Many of those covering the Olympics have flown in blind into Tokyo’s Narita airport, unaware if their activity plans have been approved. One US journalist, sports freelancer Ayako Oikawa, landed in Tokyo to find out her plan had been rejected. “It was our fault, I’m so sorry,” she was told by Japanese authorities, before being sent for 14 days of quarantine.

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