Canadian Olympic team's top doctor confident

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TOKYO — The Canadian Olympic team's top doctor was confident in measures designed to reduce risk of COVID-19 infection among the team and in the athletes' village.

While there are athletes from other countries who have tested positive for the virus after arrival in Tokyo, no Canadian athlete had as of Friday morning local time when the Canadian Olympic Committee held a virtual news conference.

"We have not had any positives on the Canadian team," Dr. Mike Wilkinson said.

"There have been positives within the village in other teams. These positives have shown that the system is working and importantly there have not been any instances of any transmission within the village."

Three Czechs and a Dutch skateboarder are among athletes in quarantine.

The Associated Press reported there have been a total of 91 cases among athletes, coaches and officials in the village near Tokyo Bay since July 1.

Of Canada's team of 370 athletes, which is the most since 1984, 280 were ensconced in the main village and the various satellite villages closer to sport venues.

Over 90 per cent of Canada's delegation in Tokyo is fully vaccinated with two doses, according to the COC.

Wilkinson, the team's chief medical officer, arrived in Tokyo three weeks ago.

"I am confident as the chief medical officer that we've done everything we can to keep everyone safe," Wilkinson said.

"We have added significant extra measures in place for the Canadian team. A lot of these are actually Canadian innovations.

"We are monitoring the air quality within our building. We have brought in extra teams to help with pre-sanitation. We are monitoring the number of vectors and viruses and bacteria on common things such as the door handles, even the bicycle handle bars or the bikes that are in use in the village. And then sanitizing and using electrostatic foggers to do this.

"We also have brought in some scientific instruments to actually test not only (for) COVID that we're talking about, but we had these in plan before to help prevent all infections that we see very commonly in the Games."

To reduce numbers and the risk of infection, athletes aren't allowed into villages until five days before their competition.

Between 30 and 40 Canadians were expected to march into Friday's opening ceremonies behind flagbearers Miranda Ayim of the women's basketball team and rugby sevens player Nathan Hirayama.

"All athletes are allowed to participate in the opening ceremonies, in every Games and not just this year with the pandemic. It's always an athlete's choice," COC chief sport officer Eric Myles said.

"Any athletes who are competing within, I would say two days of the opening ceremony, are normally never walking (in)."

Canadian athletes had already begun competing ahead of the evening's opening ceremonies at Olympic Stadium.

The women's soccer team opened with a 1-1 draw against host Japan on Wednesday. The women's softball squad was 1-1 after a win over Mexico and a loss to the United States.

Canadians will compete in rowing heats and archery preliminaries Friday. Canada hasn't set hard medal targets for the Tokyo Olympics.

The 22 medals won in Rio five years ago (four gold, three silver and 15 bronze) equalled the most for Canada at a non-boycotted Summer Olympics.

"Believe me, Canadian athletes are ready to compete, ready to win, ready to maximize the situation and make it a competitive advantage for us," Myles said.

"This has been such an incredible journey. Not only for Team Canada, but for our fellow nations, to finally be here and seeing competition now underway is very hard to put in words and is very emotional for us all."

Tokyo is operating a Summer Olympics in a state of emergency that began July 12 and continues to Aug. 22 — well after the Aug. 8 closing ceremonies — because of infection cases.

The 1,979 new cases Thursday were the highest since 2,044 on Jan. 15, according to The AP Press. About 23 per cent of Japanese are vaccinated.

"Everyone's been talking about risk these days. There's no zero risk in life," COC president Tricia Smith said. "There's only more risk and less risk.

"In this case in the pandemic, the mark of success is not zero cases, it's making sure the cases are identified, traced and cared for as soon as possible and that onward transmission is minimized.

"More than 85 per cent of the athletes in the village from 206 nations are vaccinated. There will be cases at the Games and there have been, but they're being identified and managed. The system is working."

What is usually a festival atmosphere of people gathering together in anticipation of the Olympic torch lighting has been muted in Tokyo.

No international spectators are allowed into the country. Canadians were going to compete in front of Japanese spectators only until the state of emergency barred citizens from attending competitions in Tokyo.

Tokyo's Games were postponed from 2020 to 2021 because of the global pandemic.

Canada's Olympic and Paralympic teams withdrew from the 2020 Games two days before the postponement citing public safety concerns.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 22, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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