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Toyota Pulls Ads as COVID Delivers More Olympic Blows

Tabatha Wethal

Only four days before the opening Olympic ceremony in Japan, four people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the Tokyo Olympic Village — with dozens more cases already linked to the Games — and a major advertiser is pulling away from the global event.

On Monday, Japan’s biggest automaker and one of the Olympics' top sponsors, Toyota, said it would no longer run its Olympics TV ads and the company’s executives would not attend the opening ceremony, NBC News reported Monday.

“It’s becoming an Olympics where a lot of things are not understood,” Toyota’s Chief Communications Officer Jun Nagata said Monday at a news conference with Japanese media.

Toyota had signed on as a worldwide Olympics sponsor in 2015 in an eight-year deal reportedly worth about $1 billion, according to NBC.

Officials said Sunday two South African footballers and a video analyst have tested positive, according to the Japan Times.

On Monday, the Czech Republic beach volleyball team reported Monday that a male player tested positive, The Associated Press reported.

The positive case of an American gymnast, who was not identified and is an alternate on the women’s team, also was confirmed by the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Olympic champion Simone Biles was not affected by the result, nor were any of the other gold medal favorites on the team, according to an AP report.

The cases further darkened a gloomy atmosphere around the 2020 Games, which open after a year’s delay on Friday but remain widely opposed by the Japanese public.

The Tokyo metropolitan authority reported 727 new COVID-19 cases Monday, which was the 30th straight day the tally was higher than the previous week. The count was 502 last Monday.

Players Thabiso Monyane and Kamohelo Mahlatsi and analyst Mario Masha are in isolation after testing positive, Team South Africa said, adding that the whole delegation had been following anti-coronavirus rules.

“They have been tested on arrival, daily at the Olympic Village and complied with all the mandatory measures,” a statement said.

South Africa’s rugby sevens coach Neil Powell also tested positive and is in isolation in the Japanese town where the squad are training.

“The timing of the positive results suggests that the PCR test in these individuals was done during the incubation period of the infection, which is how they could be negative in South Africa and then positive in Japan,” said chief medical officer Phatho Zondi.

About 55 cases linked to the Games have been discovered this month, Japan Times reported.

The Olympic Village, a complex of apartments and dining areas in Tokyo, will house 6,700 athletes and officials at its peak when the Games get underway.

The Tokyo Games will be held largely behind closed doors to prevent infections. The Japanese capital remains under a coronavirus state of emergency and has been battling a sharp uptick in cases.

The games will open with no fans in nearly all event venues, including at the opening ceremony, amid a state of emergency in Tokyo. The AP reported that Japanese authorities said Monday 21.6% of the nation’s 126 million population is fully vaccinated.

Olympic officials have been at pains to play down the health risks of the Games, which are taking place in stringent anti-coronavirus conditions with athletes tested daily.

“Mingling and crossing of populations is very limited. We keep the risk to an absolute minimum level,” Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said on Sunday. “We can ensure that transmission between the various groups is almost impossible.”

But Tokyo residents appeared unsettled by the cases in the athletes’ village.

“I thought the Olympic Village would be safer, so I am amazed that the virus even got inside there. I think it’s dangerous,” cosmetics company employee Riyoka Kasahara, 23, said.

Separately, South Korean International Olympic Committee member Ryu Seung-min tested positive on arrival in Japan and was placed in isolation, a spokesman for the body said.

Later Sunday, six athletes and two officials from the British track and field team were self-isolating after being identified as close contacts of an individual who tested positive after their arrival.

On Saturday, IOC President Thomas Bach appealed for Japanese fans to show support for the Games, saying he was “very well aware of the skepticism” surrounding the event.

Athletes are arriving to find a restrictive environment, with daily testing, social distancing and no movement possible outside the Olympic “bubble.” They are under orders to leave Japan 48 hours after their event.

In another example of the difficulties, Australia’s entire athletics team was quarantined before departure after a member of their entourage returned an inconclusive test. The official later tested negative.

“We expect that there’ll be cases associated with these Games and really what’s going to matter is how we respond to that and to ensure that there’s no complacency,” said David Hughes, medical director of the Australian Olympic team.

The Games’ tennis tournament, already missing the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams, lost another draw card when American teenager Coco Gauff pulled out after testing positive for COVID-19.

On Saturday, Games chief Seiko Hashimoto admitted athletes are “probably very worried” about coming to Japan, pledging full transparency over COVID-19 cases.

Japanese and Olympic officials have also been forced onto the defensive over a welcome reception for Bach attended by 40 people, while Tokyo remains under a coronavirus state of emergency.

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