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Tokyo Olympic Organizers Plan to Host 18 Test Events 

TOKYO – Local organizers on Friday announced a series of 18 test events set to begin in March and run into May.

The Tokyo Olympics are set to open on July 23, 2021, after being postponed eight months ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The announcement in an online news conference came the same day that the Tokyo Metropolitan Government reported a one-day record of 570 new coronavirus infections in the capital.

Although Japan has handled the pandemic better than most countries, cases have been surging recently with about 2,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in a country of 125 million.

Officials said at least four of the test events will involve athletes from abroad, including tests in swimming, gymnastics, diving and volleyball.

A track and field meet on May 9 at the new National Stadium is listed as test event. It is not clear if athletes from abroad will participate.

Hidemasa Nakamura, the games delivery officer, said none of the test events will allow fans from abroad, although some events will permit an unspecified number of fans from Japan.

“No, we will not have spectators from abroad,” Nakamura said.

Several of the events will not even involve athletes, testing “operations” only as a way to cut back on spending.

Japan has held sports events recently with fans. The final game of the Japan Series of professional baseball this week drew about 19,000 fans in a 38,000-seat stadium in Fukuoka. And a few thousand fans were allowed to attend an international gymnastics event earlier this month in Tokyo.

“As for the number of spectators, we have to take the guidelines of the Japanese government into consideration,” said Yasuo Mori, who works with Nakamura on games delivery.

The announcement by the Tokyo organizing committee is the latest in a campaign over the last several months to convince a global audience, sponsors and the Japanese public that the Olympics and Paralympics will take place despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Organizers are to announce a “toolbox” of preliminary countermeasures next month against COVID-19, although they are likely to be vague and subject to many changes going into next year.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who was in Tokyo this month to talk up the games, acknowledged much of the planning hinges around the availability of vaccines and rapid testing.

He said they were not a “silver bullet” but certainly would be a help along with social distancing, masks and near-quarantine conditions in the Athletes Village.

Bach said athletes would not be required to take a vaccine. He said young Olympic athletes were not a priority ahead of millions of health care workers, the elderly and other vulnerable populations.

Bach suggested the IOC would cover some of the cost of the vaccine, but he gave no details as the cost continues to climb because of the postponement.

Tokyo says it is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics, although a government audit last year said it was probably twice that much.

Games officials say a full complement of 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes will be allowed into Japan, accompanied by ten of thousands of officials, judges, VIPs, sponsors, media and broadcasters.

 

Source: Voice Of America

South Korea Agency Says North Korea Executed People, Shut Capital

 

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has ordered at least two people executed, banned fishing at sea and locked down the capital, Pyongyang, as part of frantic efforts to guard against the coronavirus and its economic damage, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers Friday.

Kim’s government also ordered diplomats overseas to refrain from any acts that could provoke the United States because it is worried about President-elect Joe Biden’s expected new approach toward North Korea, lawmakers told reporters after attending a private briefing by the National Intelligence Service.

One of the lawmakers, Ha Tae-keung, quoted the NIS as saying Kim is displaying “excessive anger” and taking “irrational measures” over the pandemic and its economic impact.

 

Ha said the NIS told lawmakers that North Korea executed a high-profile money changer in Pyongyang last month after holding the person responsible for a falling exchange rate. He quoted the NIS as saying that North Korea also executed a key official in August for violating government regulations restricting goods brought from abroad. The two people weren’t identified by name.

North Korea has also banned fishing and salt production at sea to prevent seawater from being infected with the virus, the NIS told lawmakers.

North Korea recently placed Pyongyang and northern Jagang province under lockdown over virus concerns. Earlier this month, it imposed lockdown measures in other areas where officials found unauthorized goods and foreign currencies that were brought in, Ha cited the NIS as saying.

North Korea also made an unsuccessful hacking attempt on at least one South Korean pharmaceutical company that was trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine, the NIS said.

The agency has a mixed record in confirming developments in North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive nations. The NIS said it couldn’t immediately confirm the lawmakers’ accounts.

North Korea has maintained that it hasn’t found a single coronavirus case on its soil, a claim disputed by outside experts, although it says it is making all-out efforts to prevent the virus’s spread. A major outbreak could have dire consequences because the North’s health care system remains crippled and suffers from a chronic lack of medical supplies.

The pandemic forced North Korea to seal its border with China, its biggest trading partner and aid benefactor, in January. The closure, along with a series of natural disasters over the summer, dealt a heavy blow to the North’s economy, which has been under punishing U.S.-led sanctions.

North Korea’s trade with China in the first 10 months of this year totaled $530 million, about 25% of the corresponding figure last year. The price of sugar and seasoning has shot up four times, Ha quoted the NIS as saying.

North Korea monitoring groups in Seoul said the North Korean won-to-dollar exchange rate has recently fallen significantly because people found few places to use foreign currency after smuggling was largely cut off following the closure of the China border.

According to the NIS briefing, North Korea ordered overseas diplomatic missions not to provoke the United States, warning their ambassadors of consequences if their comments or acts related to the U.S. cause any trouble in ties with Washington.

North Korea’s government has remained silent over Biden’s election victory over President Donald Trump, with whom Kim held three summits in 2018-19 over the North’s nuclear arsenal. While the diplomacy eventually stalled, the meetings helped Kim and Trump build up personal ties and stop the crude insults and threats of destruction they had previously exchanged.

Lawmaker Kim Byung-kee cited the NIS as saying that North Korea is displaying anxiety as its friendly ties with Trump become useless and it has to start from scratch in dealing with the incoming Biden administration.

Experts have been debating whether North Korea will resume major missile tests soon to try to get Biden’s attention. During past government changes in the U.S., North Korea often conducted big weapons launches in an attempt to increase its leverage in negotiations with a new U.S. administration.

The NIS expects North Korea will hold a military parade ahead of a ruling party congress in January in a show of force timed with Biden’s inauguration. North Korea is also likely to use the Workers’ Party congress to lay out its basic policies toward the U.S., Kim Byung-kee cited the NIS as saying.

Kim Jong Un has said the congress, the first of its kind in four years, will set new state objectives for the next five years. In a highly unusual admission of its policy failure in August, the Workers’ Party said North Korea’s economy had not improved due to severe internal and external barriers and that its previous developmental goals had been seriously delayed.

 

Source: Voice Of America