Surviving arrival protocols

SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson - The Philippine Star

TOKYO – How the world has changed because of the pandemic. We were five Filipinos on board the PAL flight from Manila that landed at Haneda Airport last Wednesday with Olympic credentials. Broadcaster Dyan Castillejo, golf coach Miko Alejandro, golf writer Jong Arcano, Associated Press photographer Aaron Favila and I went through a maze of inspection desks for at least two hours before exiting the terminal.

We came with all the necessary documents, including negative PCR results from two tests within 72 hours from departure, to facilitate the airport processing but it still took time as there were arrivals from other countries lining up for clearance. Some of us had no luck downloading an Olympic app called OCHA which the Tokyo organizers require to monitor health conditions on a daily basis and as an alternative, showed a QR code with a written pledge to abide by all safety protocols imposed during the Games. With OCHA, the processing is a bit faster. Just the same, we survived the ordeal, including a visit to portalet-like cubicles for a saliva test and at least a 30-minute wait for the result.

Days before the Olympic opening last Friday, the processing time went from four to five hours as the airports, both Narita and Haneda, were deluged by thousands of visitors. Organizers were hampered by resignations of volunteers leading to the launch with COVID-19 cases on the rise in the city so the lack of manpower was evident. Over 11,000 athletes are in Olympic rosters and 79,000 are listed as officials, media and support staff.

The estimate is 15,000 are from media, including broadcasters.

When we arrived, there were delegations from other countries in the airport. Athletes and officials from Canada, Colombia, Italy, Brazil and Namibia were in queues. A Brazilian showjumper said his horse was flown in from Europe and a Namibian swimmer said he will compete in the 10-kilometer open water marathon.

Because of strict protocols, it’s not easy to watch events. You just can’t walk into a venue even if you show an ID card that allows all access. No audience is permitted but organizers aren’t adjusting protocols to give way to more live media coverage. A reporter can book a coverage through an app but the probability of rejection is high particularly for late arrivals. There’s also the option of going to the Press Center for venue tickets although that’s a struggle, too, considering long lines of impatient reporters.

A source said over a hundred people, including 23 athletes, have tested positive at the Olympic Village and are isolated in a quarantine hotel.

That’s actually a small percentage considering that thousands are checked in. Organizers said 80 percent of the residents are vaccinated.

PATAFA secretary-general Terry Capistrano, who’s here to head the athletics delegation of nine, said it was a challenge to even get the Olympics off the ground and now it’s unfolded, there are continuing efforts to keep everyone safe. “You’ve got to hand it to the Japanese for making this happen,” he said. “It’s not quite how the Olympics should be but this will be remembered as proof that mankind can beat COVID-19.”

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