Hotel quarantine leaves visiting media straining on their Tokyo starting blocks

On your marks, get set, go!

The world’s elite athletes are not the only ones straining on their starting blocks on the eve of the opening ceremony of the re-scheduled Tokyo Olympic Games.

Visiting media in the Japanese capital have been forced to exhibit uncharacteristic fleet of foot in a bid to make the most of the brief quarantine window afforded them by their respective accommodation.

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Rules drawn up by the host government allow Olympic-accredited media the right to leave their hotels for just 15 minutes each day – during which time they are put under a stopwatch by lobby security.

Stated penalties for loitering in the Tokyo air for a moment longer than the allotted quarter of an hour include warnings, the stripping of Olympic accreditations and potentially even deportation.

Cue the sight of media representatives of all shapes and sizes swapping notebooks for sweatbands and running spikes and hurtling across the city’s numerous pedestrian crossings in a search-against-the-clock for green tea and packs of dehydrated noodles.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Preview – Thursday July 22nd
Tokyo remains a tantalising prospect for quarantining journalists (Danny Lawson/PA)

All British media were required to undertake three days of strict hotel quarantine upon arrival in Tokyo as a result of concerns over the spreading Delta variant of the virus.

Tokyo’s hotel rooms are not known for their spaciousness, and the 72-hour stint affords precious little scope for entertainment beyond marvelling at a pay-per-view menu that includes options for “fetish” and “maniac”, or idly flicking between three different settings on the bathroom bidet.

If the intention of the three-day quarantine is to keep Britons sealed off from others, it serves quite the opposite effect, as we are left to mingle with locals in the hotel lifts and lobbies, and find ourselves slurping seaweed at breakfast alongside local businessmen who are wholly more adept with the chopsticks.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Preview – Thursday July 22nd
Covid 19 testing kits lend a hint of colour to the otherwise largely beige hotel room backdrop (Danny Lawson/PA)

Day four – the Tokyo equivalent of the much-vaunted ‘Freedom Day’ – is about as anti-climactic as the British version.

Having recorded our daily temperature on an online app and dribbled an inch of saliva into the test kit we must deliver daily to the media centre’s specialist infection section, we are able to head out via a dedicated media bus to an initial transport hub.

From there, we must elbow past signs instructing us not to shout or randomly expectorate, and to keep at least one metre apart at all times, straight onto a standing room only shuttle bus that has already been dubbed the ‘Covid Express’.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Preview – Thursday July 22nd
Bedrooms in the official Tokyo 2020 media hotels are not exactly salubrious (Danny Lawson/PA)

The reticence comes with good reason: some British media colleagues have already received the dreaded contact-tracing ping, and been banished back to their rooms where they have no option but to serve the remaining balance of their 14-day quarantine period.

The fate of one particular British journalist has so lit up social media that it has resulted in food parcels being directed his way from around the world. Meanwhile, athletes in the same seat-rows as some of those affected are able to continue their Olympic preparations relatively unhindered.

Tokyo itself remains tantalisingly out of reach for the time being, viewable only through TV screens and tinted bus windows. The streets appear eerily empty – the city is in a State of Emergency, which curtails unnecessary journeys, and all restaurants and bars must close by shortly after eight o’clock each evening.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games – Preview – Thursday July 22nd
The Tokyo hotel bidet has three different settings (Danny Lawson/PA)

Day 15 brings the prospect of freedom day, mark two: when those media who have served their time can basically act just like the locals, travelling on public transport and able to luxuriate in taking as much time as we like to amble up the road to the nearest 7-Eleven.

Such a tantalising prospect seems a long way away right now. In the meantime, the ‘Ghost-Games’ will kick off in venues with no fans, the Covid Express will continue to rumble back and forth, and media will treat every incoming text message with a pang of quarantine-threatened panic.