As Covid Outbreak Worsens, Fiji’s Athletes Board a Plane to the Olympics

Almost all passenger flights in or out of Fiji have been suspended until the end of July, so the national team had to travel on a cargo plane carrying frozen fish to Tokyo.

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As a Covid outbreak worsens, Fiji’s Olympic athletes fly to Japan on a plane full of fish.

Wearing face masks in Suva, Fiji, early this month.Credit…Leon Lord/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

July 8, 2021, 8:23 a.m. ET

As Fiji battles one of the fastest-growing coronavirus outbreaks in the world, the Pacific Island’s Olympic team departed on Thursday for Tokyo on a freight plane.

Their fellow passengers? A shipment of frozen fish.

The coronavirus outbreak had thwarted plans to get the athletes to Japan on regular planes after almost all passenger flights from the country were suspended until the end of July. Only a select number of repatriation and freight flights have been allowed to depart.

The country has been pummeled by the Delta variant of the virus, with an average of 57 daily new cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, according to a New York Times database. Just over 6 percent of the population is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

So arranging travel was a “logistical challenge,” Lorraine Mar, the chief executive of the Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee, told The Associated Press. The solution: a freight plane hauling mostly frozen seafood, with just enough passenger space for the athletes and other officials.

It’s a sharp contrast to other Olympians’ flashier modes of transport: U.S. basketball players Devin Booker, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton may travel to Tokyo in a private plane because of scheduling conflicts, while members of the British Olympian squad departed from Heathrow Airport in London on Tuesday wearing matching tracksuits in their team’s colors.

Around midnight local time, about 50 athletes and officials from Fiji, including the country’s men’s and women’s sevens rugby squads, departed on the flight from Nadi, the principal international airport, to Tokyo ahead of the Summer Games.

Before boarding, team members spent 96 hours in isolation and took tests 72 hours ahead of their departure, in line with guidelines set by officials in Tokyo. One official with the Fiji Olympic team who tested positive for Covid-19 was withdrawn from the event.

Summer Olympics Essentials

Olympics Guide: It’s been an unusual lead-up to this year’s Olympics. Here’s what you need to know about the Games.Athletes: These are the competitors you’ll be hearing a lot about. Pick a few to cheer for!Sports: New sports this year include karate, surfing, skateboarding and sport climbing. Here’s how every Olympic sport works.Schedule: Mark your calendars for your favorite events to watch.

Ahead of the team’s departure, the country’s National Olympic Committee posted a video showing masked well-wishers brandishing Fiji’s sky-blue flag as they waved goodbye.

The country will compete in six sports, including archery, judo and table tennis. In 2016, 60 years after the country first competed in the Olympics, Fiji won its first medal when the men’s rugby team triumphed at the inaugural Olympic rugby sevens tournament in Rio de Janeiro.

In other developments across the world:

Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg, who was hospitalized with Covid-19 about two weeks after attending a European Union summit, left the hospital on Thursday morning “given the improvement of his health condition,” his spokesman said. Mr. Bettel, 48, was admitted on Sunday because of low blood oxygen levels, a serious concern for Covid-19 patients. He received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in May and fell ill before July 1, when he was scheduled to get the second. Mr. Bettel will resume his duties on Friday, working in isolation from home, his spokesman said. No other European leaders who attended the summit on June 24 and 25 have shown Covid-19 symptoms, the E.U. said on Monday.

The government of France advised its citizens on Thursday not to vacation in Spain or Portugal because of recent increases in Covid-19 cases there. Spain is averaging more new cases a day this week than at any time since February. Portugal recently reintroduced nighttime curfews in several cities including Lisbon, the capital, where residents are also barred from traveling to other parts of the country on weekends. Portugal and Spain hoped to revive tourism by reopening their borders to European travelers in time for the high summer season, only to be stalled by countries like Britain and now France issuing new travel warnings. Portugal’s foreign minister, Augusto Santo Silva, urged fellow European Union countries on Thursday to collaborate on travel restrictions instead of applying them unilaterally.

The United States, as part of its pledge to distribute vaccines to countries in need, will ship 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Uruguay and 1.4 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine to Afghanistan, the first of three million doses bound for that country, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Thursday.

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