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Even as the Tokyo Summer Olympics gets rolling, boss not ruling out COVID-forced cancellation

Tokyo Olympics' COVID safety protocols
Inside the Tokyo Olympics' COVID safety protocols as the Games get underway 06:28

Tokyo — The COVID-19 threat is looming large over the Tokyo Summer Olympics, where the competition kicked off on Wednesday even before the opening ceremony Friday. The U.S. women's soccer team had a disappointing start in their quest for Olympic gold, losing 3-0 to Sweden in their first game.

The U.S. women's softball team came through with a win, however, beating Italy in their first matchup.

But just two days before the Games are set to officially open, the coronavirus was still stealing much of the attention. 

CBS News correspondent Jamie Yuccas had to get two COVID tests in Los Angeles before she even set off on the 5,500-mile trip to cover the Games. She is required to stay at her hotel for the first 14 days, only permitted to go to work spaces, pre-approved Olympic venues, and the convenience-store around the corner.

And those protocols are just as strict for Olympic athletes and their teams. While nobody is required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the safety rules are strict and involve rigorous testing for anyone connected to the Games. Any athlete who has come in close contact with someone testing positive must test daily and quarantine in a single dorm room, including for their meals. 

With the opening ceremony only two days away, uncertainty surrounding what was originally planned as the 2020 Summer Games continued on Wednesday.

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said officials would continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds. Unlike the International Olympic Committee chief, however, Muto would not explicitly rule out pulling the plug on the Games, even at this late hour.

"Whatever he intended to say, and I suspect they are not really discussing the possibility of cancellation concretely, he ended up telling the whole world that the Olympics may get cancelled," Japanese political scientist Koichi Nakano, of Tokyo's Sophia University. "The fact that no one rushed so far to 'correct' the misunderstanding, it must mean that no one feels optimistic enough to guarantee that the Games will proceed to the end. I think the fact that Toyota, Keidanren, and a host of other sponsors, corporate bigwigs, decided to pull out of the opening ceremony must be shocking to the [Prime Minister Yoshihide] Suga government, as well as to the Organizing Committee. In that sense, I think Muto ended up implying that cancellation is a possibility."  

But USA Today sports columnist Nancy Armour said that was simply "not going to happen."

"That train left the station a long, long time ago," she told Yuccas. "These Games are happening."

But the number of positive cases continues to rise — not just in connection with the Olympics, but across the Japanese capital. New daily infections in Tokyo surged to a six-month high on Wednesday, with the city logging 1,832 new cases. The entire capital region remained under its fourth state of emergency due to the pandemic, and all fans have been banned from Olympic venues in the Tokyo area.

Final Preparations Are Made Ahead Of The Tokyo Olympics
Police officers guard a road next to the Tokyo Olympic stadium, July 21, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. Carl Court/Getty

"What we have worried about is now actually happening," Toshio Nakagawa, president of Japan's national medical association, told reporters this week. "The surge in cases has been expected whether we have the Olympics or not, and we are afraid that there will be an explosive increase in cases regardless of the Olympics."

Already more than 70 people linked to the Olympics, including athletes and staff, have tested positive for the coronavirus.

NBA star Bradley Beal never even made it to Japan. He's been forced to miss the Olympics after possible exposure to the virus in the U.S. Fellow USA Basketball star Katie Lou Samuelson tested positive before leaving the U.S., and tennis star Coco Gauff and gymnast Kara Eaker have also returned positive tests. Eaker made it as far as the Japanese training ground with USA Gymnastics before she tested positive.

"Now every morning I'm checking social media to see if the women have posted photos of them at training," USA Today's Armour told Yuccas. "I'm checking with USA Gymnastics and the US OBC to see how did everybody test negative again today… there is no magic shield around you just because you were vaccinated."

Despite the health and safety concerns, the head of the World Health Organization called the games a "celebration of hope" on Wednesday.

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