Photo/Illutration Tamayo Marukawa, the state minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, speaks at a July 16 news conference. (Koichi Ueda)

Olympic athletes in close contact with an individual confirmed to have COVID-19 will be allowed to compete if they test negative in a PCR check held just prior to their event under a special exemption granted for the Games.

Tamayo Marukawa, the state minister in charge of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, announced the exemption at a July 16 news conference.

It flies in the face of measures applied to Japanese residents who are required to self-isolate at home for 14 days if they had close contact with a COVID-19 patient.

“Preventing a spread of infections by implementing strict infection-prevention measures is our priority, but we also want to make it possible for athletes to participate in the events,” Marukawa said at a news conference.

This latest step was conveyed through the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee to the international bodies governing each sport, according to officials of the Cabinet Secretariat.

If the government enforced its self-quarantine policy for athletes who come into close contact with COVID-19 patients, it would likely mean they would be unable to compete in their chosen event.

Any athlete confirmed to have been in close contact with a patient will be asked to remain in a single room for 14 days and prohibited from leaving except to train or compete, according to Marukawa and organizing committee sources. They will also have to take meals and travel to the training or competition venue by themselves, and undergo PCR tests daily.

If they test negative for a PCR test given within six hours of the start of competition, the athlete will be allowed to compete.

In sports such as judo where athletes are in close contact during competition, PCR tests will be administered after the match as well. A list of athletes thought to be at risk of having come into close contact will be drawn up beforehand to prepare for the event where an athlete tests positive.