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

Almost all passenger flights from the country were suspended until the end of July. So the team hopped a ride to Tokyo on a cargo plane carrying a shipment of frozen fish.

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As a Covid outbreak worsens, Fiji’s athletes board a plane loaded with fish to the Olympics.

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 One official with the Fiji Olympic team who tested positive for Covid-19 was withdrawn from the event.

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.

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