A global pandemic not only forced the Tokyo Olympics to be delayed by one year, but COVID-19 continues to be an international health crisis due to slow vaccination rollouts, misinformation and several variants, among other reasons.
The Tokyo Summer Games officially began with the opening ceremony on Friday at the largely empty Japan National Stadium and many nations complied with COVID protocols by wearing face masks as they marched during the parade of nations.
However, some countries' delegations were noticeably without any face coverings — thus breaking protocols stating that athletes wear masks during the parade and ceremony.
Both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan entered the stadium mostly maskless. In addition, each country's flagbearer led their delegation around the stadium without a mask.
Following the ceremony, Takaya Masa, a spokesman for the Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee addressed the maskless groups. "Yes, I agree there were some people who were not wearing masks. I did witness that. For these Games, we are asking all the participants to follow the rules in the playbook," Masa told reporters.
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"We want everyone to play their part and everyone to contribute to the success of the Games," Masa continued. "Starting from today until the end of the Games, I want to make sure that everyone understands this basic principle and cooperates with us."
On Friday, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov told AKIpress that COVID-19 vaccinations were voluntary, according to Reuters, which also reported that the nation's health minister said in April that the country would use a herbal tonic previously praised by Japarov to treat the coronavirus. However, a medical expert had said the tonic contained a potentially lethal poison.
On Saturday, Christophe Dubi, the International Olympic Committee's executive director of the Games, said at a press conference, "Every time we see someone without a mask, and that happens a little bit everywhere, it's our duty, all of us, to say, 'Reminder, mask please.' And in most of the cases, people do simply forget. If you have blatant behaviors that are absolutely unbearable, we will definitely take action."
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More than 11,000 athletes from 206 nations attended the opening ceremony, which was themed "United by Emotion." And the COVID pandemic was a prominent topic both inside and outside the venue.
Most of the arena was left empty, with no spectators allowed other than select organizers, sponsors, dignitaries and press. Throughout the ceremony, and "through these Games, we will acknowledge the way the world came together to face a global threat, while recognizing, lauding and demonstrating our sincere gratitude for the immeasurable support and efforts of all those who made Tokyo 2020 possible," the organizers said.
Meanwhile, protesters outside the stadium could be heard yelling chants such as "Olympics leave Japan," "Go to hell, IOC" and "Go to hell, Olympics." Recent polling in the host country showed that around 70 percent of residents wanted the Games canceled or postponed due to a rise in COVID-19 cases in Japan, which is currently under a state of emergency. Tokyo is under its fourth COVID-related state of emergency.
So far, at least 123 cases tied to the Olympics have been reported. Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto previously said he was not ruling out an 11th hour cancellation of the Olympics, should the situation drastically deteriorate.
"We will continue discussions if there is a spike in cases," he said earlier this week. "We have agreed that based on the coronavirus situation, we will convene five-party talks again."
"At this point, the coronavirus cases may rise or fall, so we will think about what we should do when the situation arises," Muto added then.
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.
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