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What happens if (and when) an athlete tests positive at the Olympics?

Athletes are beginning to arrive in Tokyo, and virus cases are beginning to increase

People wearing face masks in Tokyo.
People wearing face masks chat before parting at a train station in Tokyo, Friday, July 9, 2021. The 2020 Summer Olympic Games will play out over the next two weeks in Tokyo.
Hiro Komae, Associated Press

The delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics are infectious — in all the worst ways.

Usually, the Olympics brings people together from around the world in an air of excitement. This year, the Olympics is bringing together people from around the world in an air possibly contaminated by COVID-19, reported The Associated Press.

  • This weekend, officials reported — for the first time — that multiple athletes inside the Olympic Village tested positive for coronavirus, reported Reuters.
  • An increasing number of athletes have also tested positive and have been forced to withdraw, per the AP.

The Games will begin this Friday, and questions about quarantines, positive tests and COVID-19 outbreaks will likely only intensify. Here’s the inside scoop on health regulations for the upcoming Games.

What happens when an Olympian tests positive for COVID-19?

If an athlete tests positive before arriving in Tokyo, they must withdraw from the Olympics. Multiple athletes have already withdrawn this way, per USA Today.

  • Anyone planning to travel to Tokyo must test negative twice before their flight — once 96 hours before then again within 72 hours of their flight, per Yahoo Sports.

When athletes and other participants arrive in Tokyo, they are immediately tested again for COVID-19 and must spend three days in quarantine — even if their result is negative, reported

  • Multiple athletes have tested positive upon arrival to Tokyo, per Reuters.

And then the most concerning possibility: If athletes test positive during the Games or while living in the Olympic Village, they are taken to the “Tokyo 2020 Isolation Facility” and kept under medical observation, reported Yahoo Sports.

  • Athletes who test positive during the Games are immediately withdrawn from their competitions and given the result of “Did Not Start.”
  • In most cases, the next eligible athlete will take their place, per Yahoo News.

When someone inside the Olympics “quasi-bubble” tests positive, all their close contacts from the last two days are also tested and potentially isolated, per USA Today. Athletes who are close contacts of a positive case may or may not be able to compete. This will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

How many Olympic participants have coronavirus so far?

Keeping track of the number of athletes, officials and other participants who have tested positive for COVID-19 is already difficult and will likely become more complicated in the coming days, per USA Today.

  • According to Reuter's tracker of the positive cases among Olympic participants, more than 50 people who were connected to the Games have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • Of these 54 positive cases, three cases came from the Olympic Village, per Reuters.

An unspecified number of other athletes, officials and other personnel are under isolation because of their exposure to these positive cases, per Reuters.

What happens if there’s a COVID-19 outbreak at the Olympic Village?

Fears persist about the undeniable possibility of a major COVID-19 outbreak at the Olympic Village, per the AP. The International Olympic Committee has claimed that there is “zero” risk of coronavirus transmission between athletes.

  • However, this claim of “zero” risk has already come under intense scrutiny and skepticism, per the AP.

It’s unclear how the International Olympic Committee would handle a large COVID-19 outbreak among Olympic participants — and how such an outbreak would affect the competitions, per Yahoo News. These concerning questions remain unanswered for now.